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Martha Hart Lawsuit


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Seems to covered best so far here:

http://www.cagesideseats.com/2010/6/22/153...s-wwe-for-using

 

Im amazed at the reaction from some "WWE lifers" who think Martha is a "greedy bitch" for suing poor WWE for not upholding their end of the agreement. If it goes to court it could set all types of precedents it seems.

 

My questions are pretty much echo Bix's in the article above.

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Guest Slickster

If this was an issue, you'd think they would have remembered this before they introduced WWE 24/7, much less before producing a Hart family DVD.

 

I'm not sure if the term 'likeness' can (or should be) extended so far as to allow for Owen to be removed from rebroadcast. Since the term 'likeness' is included as boilerplate in every WWE contract, couldn't this (in theory) allow ANY former WWE Superstar with similar contract clauses to remove themselves from WWE's rebroadcast content?

 

I'm sure WWE will argue that the clause was intended to prevent a Razor Ramon/Diesel situation with different wrestlers using Hart's gimmick, not as an opt-out clause for appearing on rebroadcasts of WWE programming.

 

WWE will also argue that the clause was written in 1996, years before DVD, VOD, and online video streaming made things like career retrospective DVDs and WWE Classics On Demand service possible, so it's impossible to construe the clause that way.

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From what I read, it seems like Martha's issues aren't specifically with bringing up Owen's death, though, but not paying royalties to the estate for any mention of Owen Hart.

 

While not a direct comparison, it's seems obvious that Jesse Ventura has to be compensated whenever he appears on a WWE DVD, because if he didn't, there wouldn't be these inconsistencies in which his voice is edited out of matches (case in point, his commentary is removed on the Hart Foundation/Rockers match on the Bret Hart DVD, but it appears on the Saturday Night's Main Event DVD, so I assume WWE cleared things with Jesse on the SNME DVD given that he would be so prominently featured, but just edited it out on the Bret DVD, especially since the match selection was changed late in production).

 

To the point: If because of Jesse's lawsuit back in the 1980s that he has to be compensated even in today's market, then it's going to be hard for WWE to argue it shouldn't have to compensate Martha Hart because the market changed since 1996.

 

I don't see any reason why royalties shouldn't be paid to Martha's estate whenever Owen is featured on a DVD or a WWE 24/7 show, especially now that he's likely to be featured more often given Bret's involvement with the company. That being said, while I know Martha was never a fan of WWF/E or pro wrestling, I would hope she at least understands that many wrestling fans liked Owen and, thus, there should be a way for them to enjoy his past wrestling matches, and there are ways to do it without bringing up his death.

 

And with all due respect to Martha, I don't see WWE's discussion of Owen's death on Bret's DVD as "exploitation" of his death (I haven't watched the other DVDs mentioned, so I can't comment there).

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WWE will also argue that the clause was written in 1996, years before DVD, VOD, and online video streaming made things like career retrospective DVDs and WWE Classics On Demand service possible, so it's impossible to construe the clause that way.

DVD is a dunker because it's little more than an extension of video tapes, which are covered by the contract.

 

The difference between Jesse and contracts *after* his is that Jesse's contract wasn't written in a way to specifically cover the items Jesse sued over. The WWF/WWE learned from that mistake, and contracts since then (and probably even most around the time of Jesse's) covered these things.

 

Looking at Section 2 (Works), I tend to thinks she's fucked with one exception: if the WWE hasn't been paying her anything for DVD's and other "sale" of his matches/materials. Looks like 7.7 & 7.8 cover that. One could get very creative in the accounting there, and perhaps it's not much $$$. But if she's gotten $0.00 from those things, than it would be a lot of fun doing discovery on the WWE to see what they've paid *all* performers over the years for those things.

 

If the WWE has been cutting her checks for those along with other performers on them, then they look to be fine. Section 2 gives them the right to use those materials however they want, just with the 7.7/7.8 requirement they pay.

 

I doubt the rest of Section 7 applies as it's unlikely the WWE marketed Owen merchandise after he died.

 

Looking at the IP section (Section 3 and Exhibit A), I tend to think she's fucked. Read Section 3. Then read Exhibit A. Then go back to Section 3 and see where it references Exhibit A. Then think about it a bit. What Original IP reverts back to Owen, and thus to his Estate? It doesn't even list "Owen Hart". :/

 

John

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Brets, The Hart Family & the Benoit DVDs probably have the most overt mentions of the circumstances of Owen's death dont they?

The 90s Stars DVD they released last year had a chapter specifically for him, which, yes, covers his passing as well.

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From what I read, it seems like Martha's issues aren't specifically with bringing up Owen's death, though, but not paying royalties to the estate for any mention of Owen Hart.

Yeah, this link seems to cover that, although her attorney DOES say she's trying to stop them from using Owen images:

 

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/articl..._wrvqgD9GGGD600

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Dave:

 

That's the key is the settlement agreement. If the McMahons agreed in writing that they wouldn't use Owen's footage, then they violated the agreement. It's not the first time the company has violated settlement agreements. That's why they are called World Wrestling Entertainment because they couldn't live up to a settlement agreement.

 

That's the key to the case. What was the settlement agreement.

Well, both agree nothing in the settlement agreement and they are using the 1996 contract.

 

As far as why now, could be two reasons:

 

1) She paid no attention, didn't know, and the new Hart DVD came out and she found out they'd be doing it all along

 

2) She recognized the timing with Linda running for office and a lawsuit of a widow of someone who died under their watch would be embarrassing. I do know that in Alberta, whenever there was an argument through the years between the McMahons and Martha, no matter who was right (and they were shades of gray), it was an argument Vince always came up looking very bad in at the end. Linda's campaign attacking the widow of someone who died due to negligence on a stunt (negligence by the stunt crew, but it was a crew hired by WWF) does them no favors.

 

Given the timing, I think version No. 2 is probably likely.

Looking at the lawsuit, it appears what got it started was the Hart family DVD with Owen on the cover.

 

There are two aspects of the case:

 

1) Should WWE be not allowed to use Owen in any of its footage. That's going to be very difficult to win.

 

2) Should WWE have never paid a dime to Owen's estate since 1999 for videos he's been in. Slam dunk. She's winning that if her charge is true.

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Other thoughts:

 

Martha's attorney does a pretty piss poor job of representing to the court what Section 3.1 (Original IP) and Section 7 (the various payments).

 

He intentionally cuts off the cite to Section 3.1 before he runs into the issue of Exhibit A. Frankly, there's enough in the contract to make it clear that even if "Owen Hart" had been listed as Original IP, it wouldn't have limited the ability of the WWF/WWE to continue to use/exploit/sell his Works long after he was terminated. The section really goes to merchandise where any limitation is placed on the WWF.

 

In Section 7 he's editing against to try to make the 25% on video tapes appear to be going to Owen rather than into a pot to be devided among *all* the performers on a tape... and even then one gets the sense in the sections that there's quite a calculation on how that's figured out. It's not like everyone on a Mania tape gets the same $$$.

 

One gets the feeling of why this got tossed out in Canada.

 

Again, it's possible that she's got some money coming the Estate's way as a cut from the DVD's if they haven't been paying for the use of Owen on them. But given how limited the WWE has been in using "Owen" since his death, it's hard to see where they remotely get into areas where they couldn't use him. It's not like they've created an Owen Hart Memorial Training Center.

 

John

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As we find out more, I think the royalties are the most interesting part of this, and tie into the other claim.

 

Since there's nothing to suggest otherwise (and McDevitt only refuted the likeness issue), if we take the lawsuit at face value about the lack of royalty payments, why wasn't WWE paying royalties to Owen Hart's estate? Was there something about that in the wrongful death settlement? Did they just figure that since Martha cut herself off from wrestling and the Harts, she wouldn't know about the various DVD releases (which she would be pissed off by) and thus they could hold the money back (which, while stupid, is not be an entirely unfounded belief going by her not finding out about them until the "Hart and Soul" DVD came out with Owen on the cover)? Did they have a feeling she'd file a suit like this if she knew they released footage of him? Has Chris Benoit's estate been getting royalties for the DVDs with him that were sold after the murder-suicide?

 

I wonder if we'll get any WWE royalty accounting records out of this. Even though it's a totally different market for videos than it was in 1996 (or even 1999), it would be interesting to see what he was paid for tapes of certain shows released on VHS while he was under this contract, since theoretically the estate should be getting the same percentage for any re-releases (WMs, Summerslams, and Rumbles at least via the Anthology sets).

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I disagree with Meltz about Martha doing this tying into Linda's campaign. I doubt Martha genuinely doesn't give two pins about that.

 

I see possible reasoning behind her doing this over a lack of royalties or with Owen on the cover of the Hart Family one. Even though it's a DVD with a Hart Family promotion (as opposed to a particular member of the family) one can easily argue that Owen's very clear appearance on it is a selling point.

 

Also, Bix, the Benoit DVD you may recall was discontinued (with all commercial stores ordered not to sell it) immediately after the murder-suicide. Only other stuff he's appeared on since was the SummerSlam Anthology and, as learned today, that Elimination Chamber DVD that's coming out. I'm not sure what royalties stuff like that would give Benoit's estate.

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Im trying to find the article which I remember recently read about Martha and her children so many years on. It painted a picture of a very wealthy, stable upper middle family unit who want to get on with their lives rather being on the take. It might have been on Slam Wrestling.

 

Oops found this as soon as I posted it:

http://wrestlingnewscenter.blogspot.com/20...itive-path.html

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I do see:

 

83. Defendants have paid the Estate no royalties since 1999 despite an obligation to do

so.

If Paragraph 83 is true, it's *possible* that the WWE wasn't paying Owen his small piece because they believe that the Settlement is a full release by the Estate of all future claims against and obligations from the WWE for... well... *everything*. There are lots of Settlement & Releases that are written in a manner to try to put everything to bed, and with one big lump being the last payment a company will every make to someone opposite them in the case. One would have to look at the settlement to see if it's explicit in there, or if there there's anything the WWE could have reasonably stretched in that way. If not, someone in the WWE finance department is massively asleep at the wheel in paying out money to performers.

 

Not siding with the WWE here, as seeing McDevitt playing media flack yet again makes me have a pavlovian reaction to want to see the WWE crushed.

 

Also, paragraph 81 is again misrepresenting the amount of payment to go to Owen for tapes (implying a full 25% Net rather than a share along with other performers of that 25%). They do seem to be trying to claim they're owed far more than is realistic.

 

John

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Also, Bix, the Benoit DVD you may recall was discontinued (with all commercial stores ordered not to sell it) immediately after the murder-suicide. Only other stuff he's appeared on since was the SummerSlam Anthology and, as learned today, that Elimination Chamber DVD that's coming out. I'm not sure what royalties stuff like that would give Benoit's estate.

I know, but there would also be royalties for the pre-murder/suicide releases still be sold after (or sold before with royalties not paid yet). Plus, all of the wrestlers in the video games get huge checks for them. Would royalties for SvR '07 have come in yet at that point in the year? Did Owen's estate get paid royalties for WWF Attitude, which was released after his death, but featured him and even opened with a memorial screen for him?
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As we find out more, I think the royalties are the most interesting part of this, and tie into the other claim.

 

Since there's nothing to suggest otherwise (and McDevitt only refuted the likeness issue), if we take the lawsuit at face value about the lack of royalty payments, why wasn't WWE paying royalties to Owen Hart's estate? Was there something about that in the wrongful death settlement?

It's possible. Settlement & Releases are often written in away that in return for the walkaway check, you're walking away from everything you could possibly asking the company for. Given how much was paid out... it's likely that it's written in such a way that someone in the WWE thought they were done with paying the Hart Estate. Can't be certain until one reads the settlement. It's likely that the settlement will be part of the WWE's filings since Martha has opened it up.

 

 

Did they just figure that since Martha cut herself off from wrestling and the Harts, she wouldn't know about the various DVD releases (which she would be pissed off by) and thus they could hold the money back (which, while stupid, is not be an entirely unfounded belief going by her not finding out about them until the "Hart and Soul" DVD came out with Owen on the cover)?

Doubt it's that.

 

 

Did they have a feeling she'd file a suit like this if she knew they released footage of him?

Can't imagine they would have thought that. Given what it will cost them to defend this if it isn't instantly thrown out, it's unlikely that they even made enough profit on the thing to warrant taking the risk. Again, I suspect they thought they were clear for some reason.

 

 

Has Chris Benoit's estate been getting royalties for the DVDs with him that were sold after the murder-suicide?

Would be rather dumb of them to stop paying. On the other hand, Chris has been chopped out of a lot, so payments would be little.

 

 

I wonder if we'll get any WWE royalty accounting records out of this. Even though it's a totally different market for videos than it was in 1996 (or even 1999), it would be interesting to see what he was paid for tapes of certain shows released on VHS while he was under this contract, since theoretically the estate should be getting the same percentage for any re-releases (WMs, Summerslams, and Rumbles at least via the Anthology sets).

The accounting will be buried deep in the discovery and won't likely see the light of day in the public pleadings. Probably easy to get those under a protective order before producing them.

 

John

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Good point about Tagged Classics.

 

What John mentioned about WWE the royalties being eliminated as part of the settlement crossed my mind earlier. Does the confidentiality clause prevent both parties from mentioning it if that's the case? What would it take for the terms to be revealed as part of this suit?

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As we find out more, I think the royalties are the most interesting part of this, and tie into the other claim.

 

Since there's nothing to suggest otherwise (and McDevitt only refuted the likeness issue), if we take the lawsuit at face value about the lack of royalty payments, why wasn't WWE paying royalties to Owen Hart's estate? Was there something about that in the wrongful death settlement?

It's possible. Settlement & Releases are often written in away that in return for the walkaway check, you're walking away from everything you could possibly asking the company for. Given how much was paid out... it's likely that it's written in such a way that someone in the WWE thought they were done with paying the Hart Estate. Can't be certain until one reads the settlement. It's likely that the settlement will be part of the WWE's filings since Martha has opened it up.

If she didn't mention the dollar figure (I think that was the only confidential part of the settlement in the new complaint; remember that the number never came directly from WWE or Martha before as far as I know) and open the door, would WWE be able to invoke the settlement?
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As far as Martha bringing the settlement in, paragraphs 22-27 pretty much open the door wide open. She goes off on the death, hammers the WWE and McMahons for it, references the lawsuit and the settlement. She's made all of it relevant by the "facts" of her complaint. In addition if it's part of their defense, they certainly can point to it. If it needs to be attached to any filings as an exhibit, they can always do it under a protective order which will keep it from being made public.

 

John

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