The WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.), like all big time entertainments like the NFL Super Bowl, College Football Championship games, and Beyonce concerts, suffers from counterfeit merchandise sales at its shows and live events. The WWE zealously has sought judicial orders permitting it to seize counterfeit goods and prevent their vending, especially for its pay-per-view events like WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and the Royal Rumble. With its most successful such event upcoming, WrestleMania XXX at the Superdome in New Orleans, WWE pulled out all stops to curb infringement on its intellectual property. But a federal court in Louisiana came off the ropes to block a proposed body slam of what WWE saw as prospective merchandise bootleggers and brand pirates (a tip of the hat to The Hollywood Reporter Esq. for posting the decision online).
For WWE, the stakes were especially high for WrestleMania XXX, because it was billed as an event to surpass all predecessors with the return of Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Brock Lesnar, Batista, and Undertaker. The most talked about match in WWE history was the Undertaker vs. Lesnar, with many wondering if Lesnar could break the dead man’s 21-0 WrestleMania record. Spoiler Alert: He did.
WWE has so many trademarks and service marks in connection with its wrestlers and shows that it argued it needed to go straight to the Louisiana judicial system to request permission to lay the smack down counterfeiters.
The company sought a temporary restraining order, an ex parte order for seizure of counterfeit marked goods, and an order to show that preliminary injunction should not be issued, as well as a motion to seal this proceeding. WWE requested these orders against 100 John Does and XYZ Corporations, prohibiting them from selling merchandise within five miles of any WWE event from April 3, 2014, to March 25, 2015.
A judicial rejection
But U.S. District Court Judge Helen Berrigan in New Orleans denied all requests, this though WWE had won such orders elsewhere and before. The judge said, so what. While conceding counterfeiting would occur, the court said WWE needed to present “specific facts” and state “some” information about illicit purveyors to receive a seizure order under 15 U.S.C. §1116(d).
The lack of specifics also killed the chances for WWE to win its requested TRO. Because the defendants were unnamed and unidentified, the court said it could not determine two of four requirements for that order and the judge said the WWE cannot use the seizure order, under §1116(d), to gather the “specific facts” needed to satisfy the perquisites of §1116(d).
The court declined to let WWE seize merchandise it believes to be counterfeit. That’s because the judge said it is the court’s role to determine independently the legality of such goods and it would potentially exceed limits on its own power in the ripeness doctrine, due process, and personal jurisdiction to let WWE act as it wishes. WWE filed a motion for reconsideration but Berrigan also denied it.
What sets Louisiana apart from the other states — Florida, Georgia, and New York — that had granted WWE its requested relief? It may be New Orleans itself, home to major tourism and big stage events. Might the court have feared that if it let WWE have its way with dozens of John Doe defendants and robust seizure powers that might open a docket-busting path for myriad other companies, musicians, athletes, and performers to follow?
Mania for the sport
By the way, WrestleMania XXX, which aired on PPV and on the new WWE Network, ended up breaking the Superdome’s record for highest grossing entertainment event, taking in $10.9 million. The show was sold out with more than 75,000 in attendance from all 50 states and from 37 countries.
In case the appeal of the sport-entertainment isn’t apparent — and this author is a huge fan — well, take a look at highlight’s reel: