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WWE sued by Rene Dupree over Network royalties

Former WWE wrestler Rene Dupree has filed a class action complaint against WWE for "contractually owed royalty payments" from the company selling access to past pay-per-view events he performed on via the WWE Network.

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La Resistance: Sylvan Grenier and Rene Dupree
La Resistance: Sylvan Grenier and Rene Dupree

In what could potentially develop into a major story, but more likely be a minor hindrance for their lawyers to deal with, former WWE wrestler Rene Dupree (real name Rene Goguen) has filed a class action complaint against WWE for "contractually owed royalty payments" from the company selling access to past pay-per-view events he performed on via the WWE Network and licensing them on Netflix before the WWE Network was established.

The key to the lawsuit is Section 7.5 (a) (i) of the booking contract Dupree signed with WWE on May 23rd, 2003, which states:

"WWE shall allocate 25% of the Net Receipts paid to WWE by licensees authorized to reproduce and sell video cassettes, videodiscs, CD ROM, or other technology, including technology not yet created (hereinafter referred to as "WWE Video Products"), of WWE Pay-Per-Views in their entirety ("WWE Pay-Per-Views") to a talent royalty pool. Thereafter, WWE shall pro-rate payment to Plaintiff and all other talent appearing in such WWE 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 and Netflix. Where the argument seems to fall down, at least in the case of the WWE Network, 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.

It should be noted that sometime shortly after May 2003, WWE updated their standard booking contracts to include a clause that stipulated when their performers would not be eligible for royalties, which would include online subscription services like the WWE Network:

"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."

This wouldn't directly affect Dupree's case unless he signed an updated agreement before he left the company on July 26th, 2007, but would definitely affect the cases of other potential plaintiffs who signed with WWE later.

Nevertheless, the lawsuit seems dead on arrival, because Jerry McDevitt claimed to David Bixenspan of that Dupree signed an agreement with WWE in 2011 that would preclude his claims:

"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."

It should be noted that McDevitt later clarified that this agreement was not a WWE Legends’ Contract to Bixenspan.

McDevitt was equally bullish to The Hollywood Reporter, likely because similar lawsuits in the past have gone against the wrestlers involved:

"In response, WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt tells THR that the problem with this lawsuit is that Goguen signed a contract in 2011 that destroys his ability to bring these types of claims. McDevitt wouldn't get into the specifics of this agreement, citing a provision on confidentiality, but he did say that he informed Goguen's lawyer last night. "His response back indicates he did not know about it," says McDevitt.

The WWE attorney wouldn't get into hypotheticals about potential other lawsuits from other wrestlers perhaps not bedeviled by waiver, but he expressed a lack of worry, pointing to the outcome of ESPN's legal dispute with wrestler Steve Ray for the proposition that many claims will be preempted by copyright law."

My personal opinion is the only way WWE wrestlers, past and present, will ever get Network royalties is if they band together and the whole current roster went on strike over the issue, which, of course, is extremely unlikely to ever happen, but maybe this class action lawsuit will prove me wrong.

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