WWE Must Defend Itself Against Copyright Claim
DALLAS (CN) - A federal judge refused to dismiss a composer's copyright suit against World Wrestling Entertainment over its use of his music in its "Legends of Wrestlemania" video game.
In July 2012, composer James D. Papa and his company, Papa Berg Inc., sued the WWE, Stephanie Music Publishing Inc., former professional wrestler Michael Seitz and WWE composer James Johnston, claiming he was being cheated out of royalties over their use of his music.
Papa said he and Seitz co-wrote the song "Badstreet USA" that became the entrance music played for Hayes and other wrestlers in the Fabulous Freebirds wrestling stable.
Papa said he registered the song for licensing in 1983 and retained all publishing rights.
However, he said after he was contacted by video game company THQ about using the song in a video game, he discovered the song and other works had been re-registered by WWE, resulting in royalties being directed to the defendants.
He said the defendants used his protected works in a DVD, in classic wrestling matches broadcast on WWE's cable channel, and as ring tones on cell phones.
In denying WWE's motion, U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle said she cannot determine when the works were re-registered such that Papa had constructive notice under the three-year statute of limitations for copyright claims.
"The court does not doubt Papa's claim that he did not discover WWE's alleged tortious acts until late 2010, less than three years prior to the filing of the complaint," Boyle wrote. "Nevertheless, the complaint, while alleging that defendants' registration was improper, admits on its face that all of the protected works were re-registered under the name of Michael Seitz or James Alan Johnston as songwriters and composers with Stephanie Music as publisher."
The defendants also failed to provide sufficient authority to show the discovery rule does not apply in copyright cases, Boyle said.
However, the judge did dismiss individual claims against Johnston and Seitz, concluding the court lacked both specific and general person jurisdiction over them, as well as both men being insufficiently served process.
"Johnston has had no contact with Texas in at least ten years, and Seitz's only contact in the last 25 years has been sixteen trips for WWE live events, which do not have any apparent connection with the protected works," Boyle wrote. "As such, neither Johnston nor Seitz have had the 'substantial, continuous, and systematic' contacts required for general jurisdiction."
Wrestling under the ring name Michael Hayes, Seitz started performing under the Fabulous Freebirds moniker in 1979 with wrestlers Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts. The stable wrestled out of the Dallas-based regional promotion World Class Championship Wrestling, where it engaged in long-running and well-publicized feud with the Von Erich wrestling family.