Wednesday, October 28, 2020

WWE Sued By Rene Dupree Over Potential WWE Network Royalties

While WWE has had a number of victories in court last month, just as the dust cleared from WrestleMania weekend, they were named in another lawsuit. Yesterday, Rene Goguen, best known as Rene Dupree, filed a lawsuit against the company in federal court in WWE’s home state of Connecticut. The main thrust of the complaint is that Dupree has not been paid royalties for his matches being aired on WWE Network  Just over a week ago, Dupree had been asked on the Two Man Power Trip of Wrestling podcast about the rumors of such a lawsuit being shopped to wrestlers, and here’s what he had to say:

“I wish they would pay me for the WWE Network because I think everyone who is on it should get some type of royalty off of that. Because I guess you are still part of the company in some way if they are showing your stuff, but at the same time they say that nobody watches the “old stuff”. Well take off all the old stuff off and watch your f–king subscriber count drop within six months. You know there is a lawsuit coming from that as well? They are being sued by everybody. They are being sued with the concussion lawsuit, the guys with the royalties and also the investors. Remember when they lost like 400 million dollars in one day? They pissed off a bunch of people and a bunch of investors are suing them too.”

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When asked if he was a potential plaintiff, Dupree replied that “I cannot confirm or deny, I plead the fifth” while laughing. That was the last he said publicly about the potential lawsuit before it was filed yesterday.

I reached out to Jerry McDevitt, WWE’s outside counsel, for comment on the lawsuit, and here’s what he provided us in response:

“Aside from the complete lack of merit, the fact there are numerous decisions precluding the non-contractual claims, and the fact that the contract does not give him any rights that relate to the WWE Network, Goguen signed an agreement in 2011 which we believe precludes these claims. I do not think he told his lawyers about the above agreement, and they were notified of it last night with the obvious demand that the lawsuit be dismissed. They thanked me for telling them, and said they would look into it, which to me confirms he did not tell them.”

McDevitt later added that the 2011 agreement was not a WWE “Legends’ Contract.”

The 19 page complaint, which is embedded at the bottom of this article (and can also be viewed on Archive.org) focuses primarily on the language regarding home video royalties in Dupree’s 2003 Talent Booking Contract with WWE. Subsequent to Dupree signing with WWE (believed to be about 2004 when WWE launched the WWE 24-7/WWE Classics on Demand subscription video on demand service; an online version was added later), this language was added to the standard contract (emphasis mine):

7.5 No Royalties Paid to WRESTLER. Except as specifically set forth in Section 7.1 through 7.3 above, WRESTLER shall not be eligible for any payment or royalties with respect to any other goods, services or otherwise including without limitation to the following: television license fees; television subscription fees; internet subscription fees; subscription video on demand fees; magazine subscription fees and/or advertising; and/or distribution fees of any kind paid to PROMOTER by any entity in connection with the exploitation of the Intellectual Property.

Dupree’s attorneys (Clinton A. Krislov and Matthew T. Peterson of Krislov & Associates in Chicago and Brenden Leydon of Tooher Wocl & Leydon in WWE’s home town of Stamford, CT) are arguing that under the language of the contract Dupree signed in 2003, he’s entitled to royalties from WWE Network. There are various sections of the contract entitling him (or anyone else who signed this version of the contract) to various different royalty rates on different forms of WWE Video Products. Those are defined in the contract as (emphasis taken from the complaint) “video cassettes, videodiscs, CD ROM, or other technology, including technology not yet created,” In addition to WWE Network, the complaint argues that this language should also include licensing fees that WWE gets from Netflix.

The basic argument of the complaint is that…

Defendant breached its Booking Contract with Plaintiff by selling WWE Video Products (streaming videos on the WWE Network) of PPVs and Non-PPVs without paying any royalties to Plaintiff. Plaintiff assigned his intellectual property rights in perpetuity to WWE in exchange for royalty payments from the sales of WWE Video Products of PPVs and Non-PPVs.

And…

Defendant breached its Booking Contract with Plaintiff by licensing WWE Video Products (streaming video) of PPVs and Non PPVs without paying any royalties to Plaintiff.

Dupree’s lawyers are also trying to have the case certified as a class action lawsuit, which means that others similarly situated could join in. Here’s how they’re trying to define the class:

All individuals who have assigned their original and new intellectual property rights to WWE or a promotion that WWE has acquired the assets and/or the video library of, in exchange for perpetual royalty payments from WWE’s (or acquired promotion) or licensees’ sales of past pay-per-view events or non pay-per-view productions.

They then split the class into two sub-classes for WWE performers and non-WWE performers who were signed to promotions that WWE bought the video libraries of. I’m just a layman, but the way this is laid out in the complaint seems like it’s opening them up to plenty of scrutiny for WWE, as they make sure to note the contract language entitling wrestlers to home video royalties going back to 1980 (which may not be entirely accurate in the first place) while ignoring the aforementioned language about not being entitled to royalties from  “television subscription fees; internet subscription fees; [and] subscription video on demand fees” that has been there for the past decade or so.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBKuom1D9W8

There have been other lawsuits like this in the past, but they didn’t involve plaintiffs with a WWE Talent Booking Contract. Doug Somers’ lawsuit over using his AWA matches failed, as did Steve Ray’s lawsuit over ESPN airing matches from herb Abrams’ UWF, while Doug and Tommy Gilbert (with Tommy representing his son Eddie’s estate) dropped their lawsuit against both WWE and ESPN over various footage of Eddie and Doug in the GWF, ECW, and WCW.

Here’s the whole complaint:

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