Intellectual Property

Former Wrestler Involved in Legal Dispute with WWE

The following article was written by Spencer Wingate.

Last year Wrestling Globe Newsletter obtained court documents showing that Douglas Somerson filed a complaint against World Wrestling Entertainment along with its’ co-founders Vince and Linda McMahon. Somerson, or “Pretty Boy” Doug Somers as he was known in the cage, filed the lawsuit in Georgia State Court on six counts. He sued both the WWE and the McMahons for invasion of privacy, violation of the right of publicity, and violation of the Georgia Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act.  Somerson additionally sued just the WWE on a count of unauthorized use of intellectual property and unjust enrichment. The McMahons were solely hit with a count of negligent supervision.

Somerson contends that using his name, likeness, and persona in commercial products without his approval is illegal. He points to video footage of his fight with Shawn Michaels in the WWE Greatest Cage Matches of All Time DVD for which he has received no royalties. Somerson never wrestled in the WWE, but was part of the American Wrestling Association in the 1960s to mid 1980s. His lawsuit references that he has suffered over 400 concussions, broken bones, and inoperable injuries throughout his body. According to Somerson his current state of miserable health is all due to his wrestling career. He is seeking undisclosed damages alongside unpaid royalties, injunctive relief, attorney expenses and fees.

Somerson’s case against the WWE is still pending as the McMahons have been in a heated legal battle. In January, the McMahons removed the suit to federal court by stating the Federal Copyright Act of 1976 impeded all state-law copyright claims. They have requested a more definite state of the accusations; they deem them completely unfounded. The McMahons contend by purchasing the rights to all AWA footage, they have the right to utilize it without paying wrestlers like Somerson. Numerous motions have been filed by the McMahons with hopes to have the complaint dismissed. The WWE founders are alleging that “Somerson failed to state a claim entitling him to relief under Fed Rule Civ. Pro. 12(b) (6) and the heightened pleading requirements of Bell Atlantic v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal; that several claims’ statute of limitations have run, time-barring them; that the court lacks personal jurisdiction under Fed. Rule Civ. Pro. 12(b) (2); and that they were improperly served under Fed. Rule Civ. Pro. 12(b) (4).

The WWE is no stranger to lawsuits. Their legal battle with the Worldwide Wildlife Foundation resulted in the company’s name changing from WWF to WWE.  The outcome of Somerson’s complaint will impact additional claims regarding the unauthorized use of one’s name and likeness. Additional wrestlers could step forward filing suits against the WWE. The ruling could usher in a new precedent across the entire entertainment industry. Due to their intellectual property rights, athletes would have to agree for an entity such as the WWE to use archival footage. The WWE is set to launch a cable television network later this year. Losing footage and money in the suit would not bode well for their future plans.