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.