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Buff Bagwell files class action Network royalties lawsuit against WWE

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Buff Bagwell: 2 months work lead to 1 lawsuit against WWE 15 years later.

The lawsuits by former wrestlers against WWE just keep on coming.

This time it’s a class action complaint over “contractually owed” WWE Network royalty payments filed by Buff Bagwell, who worked for WWE for just two months in the summer of 2001 before being released by the company.

The lawsuit was filed on Bagwell’s behalf by attorneys Brenden Leydon, Clinton Krislov and Matthew Peterson who had filed a very similar lawsuit by Rene Dupree in April, which was quickly dropped when his lawyers discovered that he had signed contracts in 2006 and 2011 with WWE that clearly stated he was not entitled to royalties from online streaming and VOD services like the WWE Network. This probably wouldn’t apply to Bagwell, who has not worked for WWE since 2001.

The key to the lawsuit is once again Section 7.5 (a) (i) of the standard booking contract Bagwell signed with the WWE owned WCW on June 4th, 2001, which states:

"WCW shall allocate 25% of the Net Receipts paid to WCW by licensees authorized to reproduce and sell video cassettes, videodiscs, CD ROM, or other technology, including technology not yet created (hereinafter referred to as "WCW Video Products"), of WCW Pay-Per-Views in their entirety ("WCW Pay-Per-Views") to a talent royalty pool. Thereafter, WCW shall pro-rate payment to Plaintiff and all other talent appearing in such WCW Pay-Per-Views in the same proportion as was the compensation paid to Plaintiff for his appearances in the pay-per-views to the total amount paid to all talent for their appearances in the pay-per-view."

The lawsuit's argument is that "other technology, including technology not yet created" would include streaming videos on the WWE Network. Where the argument seems to fall down, in my eyes, is that WWE owns the online streaming service themselves and thus isn't licensing the pay-per-view footage they own to a third party.

There are three key differences with the Dupree lawsuit:

  • This time the lawsuit solely focuses on the WWE Network and doesn’t mention Netflix, which had streaming videos of WWE content on their service in the past.
  • A section entitled Copyright Act Preemption has been added which explains why this lawsuit shouldn’t be dismissed like other royalties lawsuits against WWE have been in the past, most notably the one filed by former AWA wrestler Doug Somers in late 2011. The main difference is that Bagwell had actually signed a contract with WWE that specified he was owed royalties from sales of video tapes of pay-per-view events he wrestled on, whilst Somers had never signed a contract with WWE.
  • They’ve reduced the class of potential litigants from all WWE performers since 1980 to those who signed WWE contracts between January 1st 1992 to January 1st 2004 but not thereafter. That’s because WWE’s contracts before 1992 only entitled a wrestler to royalties on video tapes that featured themselves exclusively, whilst those from 2004 onwards included language that clarified that the wrestler wouldn’t be entitled to royalties from a streaming service like the WWE Network.

It is believed that even though he wasn’t explicitly named in this lawsuit, Konstantine Kyros is behind this complaint like he has been with all the concussion litigation against WWE. If so, this would, I believe, be the eighth lawsuit he’s brought against WWE in less than two years.

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