The following information is courtesy of PWInsider. It is very long and filled with many big words. I’ll try to break everything down at the bottom.
World Wrestling Entertainment filed a motion on 11/4 attempting to prevent ECW founder Tod Gordon from challenging for the rights to the ECW video library, particularly the Eastern Championship Wrestling era. WWE’s attorneys pointed out that they purchased the entire library from the bankruptcy court in June 2003 including the portions that Gordon now seeks to have the court rule on.
WWE argued that there was nothing that indicated that the ECW library was not to cover the Eastern era and also noted that Tod Gordon was aware of the name change from Eastern to Extreme when it took place in August 1994 and clarifies Gordon’s company as the “predecessor” to HHG Inc., the parent company of Extreme Championship Wrestling. They noted that Tod Gordon was aware of the bankruptcy proceedings and sale the entire time they were taking place, yet did nothing to air his “fictional ownership” at the time, so he should now be bound by the sale of the footage to WWE.
WWE claimed that by purchasing the library, they aided HHG’s creditors and helped raise the stock of the ECW brand, “which had been dormant since 2000” (I guess they didn’t notice that January 2001 PPV in New York City or the two house shows that followed it in Arkansas) with their various projects, by utilizing their “considerable creative, licensing, and marketing programs.”
WWE claimed that Tod Gordon’s Eastern Championship Wrestling, Inc. ceased to be operated as a business in April 1994 and it’s stock “was bought by Paul Heyman and subsequently folded into HHG.” WWE claimed (and Paul Heyman also stated as such in an affidavit, see below) that Heyman was given 50% ownership of Eastern Championship Wrestling by Gordon in lieu of a regular paycheck for his role as booker and performer, noting that Gordon “essentially had no involvement in these matters.”
WWE and Heyman both claimed that Eastern was undergoing problems financially and Heyman was asked to infuse $25,000 into the company in June 1994. After the name change to “Extreme Championship Wrestling”, WWE stated that Extreme Championship Wrestling, Inc. was formed as a Pennsylvania corporation listing Gordon as CEO and Heyman as Vice President. WWE pointed out that the two companies were viewed as one and the same by everyone involved, using the same talent, video library, and staff and at no point were considered two different companies. WWE then stated that Heyman then paid $175,000 “in or around” April 1995 in order to offset ECW’s continuing financial issues, at which point Heyman took ownership and control, forming HHG as a New York corporation. WWE used two “Internet articles” featuring quotes from Gordon discussing his exit from ECW to qualify their claims.
WWE also noted that after they purchased the HHG assets from the bankruptcy court, they paid $250,000 to the former ECW production team, American Cable Production (Ron Buffone and Charlie Bruzzeze) and at the time, were given the representation that the sale of the library was free and clear of any issues, which means they claim Gordon never approached ACP with ownership claims prior to the library being delivered into WWE’s hands.
WWE noted that Gordon did not make any movement regarding ownership claims until ten years after HHG was formed and two years after WWE had purchased the ECW library, claiming Gordon did “not now come to the court with clean hands.” They categorized the motion by Gordon’s attorneys as “the latest in a series of efforts by the moveants to extort money from WWE in connection with WWE’s use of the Eastern footage after it became apparent that WWE was profiting from its usage, something the Moveants were never able to accomplish.”
WWE followed up the extortion claim by pointing out that prior to last June’s ECW One Night Stand PPV event, Gordon “staked a claim” seeking monetary compensation and was turned down. They claimed Gordon resurfaced seeking compensation again and “threatened to interfere with the airing of the pay-per-view event.” Gordon was again shot down, yet didn’t attempt to get a restraining order against WWE in conjunction with the footage. WWE also claimed that Gordon offered to give up his claim to the Eastern footage if WWE agreed to sign him to a book deal. Gordon signed a deal with Canada’s ECW Press to write his memoir earlier this year.
Since Gordon did not attempt to stop WWE from acquiring or using the Eastern footage until the company had “invested resources into it”, WWE claimed that should time bar his efforts. WWE also pointed out how damaging it would be to the company to have any portion of their library sale reversed, especially two years later. They asked the court to bar Gordon’s motion and to prevent any similar motions from being brought up at a future date.
Paul Heyman gave an affidavit on 11/4, which WWE attached to their response. In the affidavit, Heyman stated he joined Eastern Championship Wrestling in June 1993 as an independent contractor and 50% owner. Heyman stated, “At that time, I was the creative director, with complete control over, among other things, (i)developing storylines, (ii)hiring talent, (iii) creating new characters, (iv) depicting and promoting characters on ECW programs, (v) developing the look and feel of ECW programs, (vi) determining finishes (i.e. the winners and losers) of wrestling matches; and (vii) determining the ECW champion(s). Mr. Gordon essentially had no involvement in these matters.” Heyman stated that in lieu of pay, he was given 50% ownership and the promise of additional compensation.
He noted the name change and said that, “to my knowledge, the name “Eastern Championship Wrestling” was not used by Mr. Gordon or otherwise since 1994.” The name was briefly used in 1998 during a storyline in the late Dennis Coraluzzo’s NWA promotion in New Jersey, which featured an invasion of “ECW” talents led by Gordon and was advertised as such locally.
Heyman said that he was informed by Gordon that Extreme Championship Wrestling Inc. was formed but the two never treated them as separate companies. Heyman said that from the inception of forming HHG, he used Gordon’s likeness and the Eastern footage when licensing ECW to third parties for video and DVD releases. He said that at no point before or after Gordon’s exit from ECW in September 1997 did he “comment or complain” about the footage being used.
Heyman closed the affidavit stating, “Since about April 1995, Mr. Gordon consistently and clearly indicated, through both his words and actions, that I was the sole operator and owner of ECW.”
The bankruptcy court sided with Gordon and declared he could go forward with the claims to his likeness and the Eastern Championship Wrestling footage, as shown below. There will be a hearing on 1/26/06 in White Plains, New York regarding both entities being used by World Wrestling Entertainment in their ECW-related projects past, present, and future.
Eastern Championship Wrestling founder Tod Gordon has successfully challenged World Wrestling Entertainment’s ownership of portions of the ECW video library and the United States Bankruptcy Court District of New York will hold a hearing on the case on 1/26/06 in White Plains, New York.
Gordon’s attorneys filed a motion with the court on 10/11 to move on whether the Eastern library was rightfully part of the ECW estate and to determine to what extent the ECW bankruptcy proceedings had on WWE’s usage of the Eastern library and Gordon’s likeness. Gordon is claiming that the June 2003 sale by the bankruptcy trustee of ECW’s assets and library to WWE should not have included his likeness and ownership of Eastern Championship Wrestling.
Gordon claimed that his Eastern Championship Wrestling, Inc. was a different entity from Extreme Championship Wrestling (which was later sold to WWE as part of the bankruptcy proceedings of ECW parent company HHG Incorporated) and that Eastern should not have been included for sale alongside the remainder of the video library. The motion noted that the sale simply lists the library of “ECW,” does not denote between the two companies, that WWE only has the rights to the bankruptcy estate, and that the rights to Eastern should not have been sold as part of that estate as the bankruptcy court did not have the rights to do so.
The October motion noted that Gordon’s attorneys notified WWE in January 2005 that they were using Gordon’s likeness and the Eastern video library for WWE’s TV, DVD, and Video on Demand outlets without properly having the rights. WWE responded that they had purchased all ECW rights during the HHG bankruptcy proceedings, which lead to Gordon’s attorneys filing their motion with the court. Gordon’s attorneys claimed they provided WWE with documentation that Eastern and Extreme were two distinct and separate entities at that time. Noting that WWE has “made millions” from the ECW library, Gordon asserts that WWE should only have the rights to the assets that were properly owned by HHG’s Extreme Championship Wrestling, not his Eastern Championship Wrestling.
A hearing was held on 11/10, at which point United States Bankruptcy Judge Adlai S. Hardin Jr. ruled that the June 2003 sale did “not convey any ownership interest in either the intellectual property owned by Eastern Championship Wrestling, Inc. or the likeness of Tod A. Gordon.” He also ruled that the bankruptcy sale does not prohibit Eastern and/or Gordon from “enforcing their rights in any court.” Deciding there was “sufficient cause”, Hardin set a December date to hear Gordon’s case, which was later pushed back to 1/26/06.
On 11/21, attorneys for Barbara Balaber-Strauss, who was the Trustee of the HHG, Inc. estate after it went into its 2001 bankruptcy proceedings, filed a statement with the court that she was taking no position in the matter. She wrote the sale of the assets featured, “the name ‘Extreme Championship Wrestling’, ‘ECW’ and variants thereof [and]…the entire ECW video library of footage…”. She also noted that the sale included, “..without limitation, copyright ownership of the entire ECW library of footage and no party, including, without limitation, Tod Gordon or any affiliate, has any Claim against the ECW library…” She noted that the situation was between WWE and Tod Gordon and that the motion has no bearing on the bankruptcy estate or HHG’s creditors. She also noted that she had delivered all of ECW’s books and records to WWE at the time they purchased the assets.
NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling ran its first show in 1992 and changed its name to Extreme Championship Wrestling following an 8/27/94 angle where ECW champion Shane Douglas won the NWA title in a tournament, then rejected and threw down the belt, instead declaring the ECW title a “World championship.” Gordon announced the name change for the promotion on their TV show the following week. At some point during the spring or summer of 1995, Paul Heyman took over the company with parent company HHG Inc. being the major financial backer from that point on. Extreme Championship Wrestling ran its final live event in January 2001 with HHG, Inc. filing for bankruptcy in March of that year.
WWE purchased the HHG assets in June 2003 and immediately began using the ECW video library as part of their corporate synergy. The WWE released DVD “Rise and Fall of ECW” was a huge seller, becoming the second best moving WWE title ever at the time of its release. The success spawned the return of ECW with last June’s ECW One Night Stand PPV in New York City, which (to date) has recorded over 300,000 PPV buys. The ECW brand is also a regular part of WWE 24/7, which features a “History of ECW” show hosted by Tazz. A new DVD “ECW’s Most Extreme Matches” is scheduled for a 2/7/06 release.
This case would not be the first time WWE has ended up in court over the rights to an ECW related property. In May 2003, musicians Harry Grivas (p/k/a Harry Slash) and Roderick Kohn sued WWE in the Southern District of New York for copyright infringement over their usage of the ECW “This is Extreme” theme song during the 2001 Invasion storyline. That case was settled out of court in December 2004. Shortly therafter, WWE purchased of all of Slash and Kohn’s original ECW music, likely as part of the settlement, and has since incorporated them into all of their ECW-related projects.
When contacted at his Philadelphia office Thursday afternoon, Gordon declined to comment on the case, noting that he was advised by his legal counsel to not discuss the proceedings.
The case will be heard on 1/26/06.
– Todd Gordon, former owner and operator of Eastern Championship Wrestling, which become Extreme Championship Wrestling, has filed claim against WWE regarding it’s use of “ECW”.
– Gordon’s stance is that Eastern Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling are two different entities and while WWE purchased everything regarding Extreme Championship Wrestling, they do not have any rights to Eastern Championship Wrestling or any of it’s material, such as the video footage used on DVDs.
– His argument is that Eastern and Extreme have no relation and they should not have been packaged in the bankruptcy proceedings.
– He either wants to be compensated monetarily or given the footage and naming rights for Eastern Championship Wrestling.
– If he is given those rights, he could promote shows using “ECW”.
– WWE claims that Gordon is trying to extort them. Their stance is that it was not until they rejuvenated the brand via the DVD and One Night Stand that Gordon made any move, well over a decade after Eastern Championship Wrestling ceased operations.
– WWE is trying to 1) protect the assets they purchased and 2) prevent Gordon from having the rights to the names, in which case he could promote shows under the ECW name, falsely implying that ECW is alive and well.
– The case has been moved forward by a judge who states that Gordon has just cause and WWE should not have and Eastern material or Gordon’s likeness.
– While it could be very true that Eastern should not have been packaged with Extreme, WWE seems to have gone to every avenue to ensure they recieved all materials associated with ECW as a whole, including all past branding and footage. It is very suspect that Gordon would come out now and try to make a grab at things. Knowing what we do about Gordon’s past (WCW relations), it is very hard to believe that he actually cares about Eastern and would just like the library. To me, personally, it sounds like a money grab one way or the other. He could ask for compensation and sell it back to WWE or he could go make some DVDs of “Before Extreme” or actually promote shows using the name “ECW” and people would be none the wiser. Since it is so close to me, I will try to attend the court case in January, if it is open door.