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April 19, 2015

WWE And ESPN Sued Over Unpaid Likeness Usage, WWE Responds

TMZ broke the news today that Tommy Gilbert, acting on behalf of his son Eddie's estate, and his younger son Doug Gilbert filed a lawsuit against both WWE and ESPN recently. Both brothers appear on the Global Wrestling Federation shows that air on ESPN Classic in the United States as well as in numerous matches throughout the libraries WWE owns, as well as in the WWE Encyclopedia coffee table book. WWE Network's video on demand library includes various matches of both brothers, with some of Doug's being in the Dark Patriot gimmick in ECW.

Essentially, the Gilberts are arguing they never gave permission for WWE or ESPN to use their likenesses and have not been compensated for it. To quote the complaint, which WrestlingInc obtained:

"While they performed live, neither of the Gilberts signed contracts or gave permission to WWE or ESPN to use recordings of the Gilberts' names or likenesses. The defendants have impermissibly and in violation of the Gilberts' rights of privacy shown recordings of past wrestling matches that use and display the Gilberts' names and likenesses. Additionally, Defendants have violated the Gilberts' rights of privacy by using the Gilberts' names and likenesses through other media. Neither Doug Gilbert nor Eddie Gilbert has received compensation for the Defendants' use of the Gilberts' names and likenesses. Accordingly, the Gilberts seek compensation and all other damages to which they are entitled based on Defendants violation of the Gilberts' rights of privacy."

The Gilberts are not seeking to block use of the footage; instead, they just want to be paid the compensation they feel they're due. Meanwhile, WWE made a statement to TMZ:

“Through the years, WWE has acquired the legal rights to library footage of various former wrestling organizations including Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Mid-Southern Wrestling among many others. WWE has made these substantial investments to acquire these copyrighted works and has the legal right to use them. Similar cases in the past have been unsuccessful and we expect this case to be dismissed.”

While the suit was filed just over a month ago, it looks like it didn't break until now because it was filed in a local court not tracked by much media. This past week, WWE and ESPN filed a joint notice of removal to federal court, so it became much easier to find the records online if you were searching for WWE-related cases. In the notice of removal, WWE cites their success in similar lawsuits filed in the past by Ricky Steamboat and Doug Somers, while ESPN notes they prevailed in a 2013 lawsuit from Steve "Wild Thing" Ray (who appeared in Herb Abrams' UWF shows that were rebroadcast on ESPN Classic).

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