The issue of copyright, in particular, how far should WWE go to protect their copyrights, is back in the wrestling news again, after ProWrestlingTees.com claimed on their website that WWE has forced them to stop selling their Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart t-shirts that they recently put on sale due to an intellectual property rights violation.
ProWrestlingTees.com sells T-shirts on behalf of some of the biggest names in the business including Steve Austin, CM Punk, Mick Foley, Scott Hall and The Young Bucks. This isn't the first time the website has gotten into trouble with WWE over trademark issues.
When Steve Austin had his rumoured brief falling out with WWE earlier this year, the company's lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to the site instructing them to stop selling some of the merchandise they carried for Austin which violated their copyrights. What coincidental timing!
Below is a statement by ProWrestlingTees.com on their latest run-in with WWE, which argues that the company has unfairly cost Neidhart money by pulling the T-shirts, because they weren't exploiting his exclusive merchandising agreement with WWE at this time:
"Sorry, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart t-shirts are no longer available on ProWrestlingTees.com.
We received a notice from WWE saying that we were violating intellectual property rights by selling Jim Neidhart shirts on our website. First off, we don't sell anything on our site, the wrestlers do. Our website is a portal for independent and retired pro wrestlers to sell their own merchandise to hundreds and thousands of fans worldwide. We then simply print for them and ship them to their customers. Everything is contracted through the wrestlers. They sign contracts with us taking all claim to their property and the rights to their designs. 90% of the time they provide their own artwork or get final say in the designs they sell. Every aspect from the shirt color, to the title of the product is decided by the wrestler or their estate.
After doing more research we found that WWE didn't own the trademark on the name Jim Neidhart nor Hart Foundation. After explaining this to their lawyer, we were then told that Jim has an "exclusive merchandise agreement" with WWE. Exclusive merchandise agreements are understandable, when you're selling merchandise! Where is all the Jim the Anvil merchandise? We've never seen a Jim "The Anvil" t-shirt ever. Maybe one of him and Bret Hart together, but never solo.
WWE continuously blocks retired pro wrestlers from selling merchandise on the internet. Not only Pro Wrestling Tees, but other websites as well. These wrestlers have fans that want to show their appreciation for them but they aren't allow to because WWE says they have the "merchandise rights" to them. If WWE has these rights then use them. It's simple. There is no reason they shouldn't allow Jim to have extra money in his pocket. There is no competition here, because they aren't selling Anvil's t-shirts. Being under a WWE legends contract is understandable, but why is Jim in an "exclusive merchandise contract" with no merchandise? If they aren't going to allow him to sell his own merchandise through our web portal then at least sell shirts for him through the WWE shop.
Although WWE's actions here may seem heavy handed, clearly Neidhart should have cleared his merchandising agreement with ProWrestlingTees with the company first, given that he was under an exclusive contract to them. It's unfortunate that some compromise couldn't be worked out that would see everyone benefit.
Colt Cabana and CM Punk's reaction on Twitter to this news wasn't very complimentary towards WWE:
Bullies! https://t.co/El4Rzc8LGQ— Colt Cabana (@ColtCabana) September 29, 2015
Allegedly! https://t.co/Lzi0cDCzfL— Coach (@CMPunk) September 29, 2015
It should be noted that both are currently being sued for defamation by WWE's Senior Ringside Physician, Dr. Chris Amann. They argue that Amann collaborated, coordinated and conspired with WWE on the lawsuit in bad faith in retaliation for Punk's allegedly honest criticisms of the medical treatment he received at the hands of a WWE doctor, believed to be Amann, on Cabana's podcast. It should be noted that WWE calls their accusations "categorically false".