Songwriter Files Lawsuit Against WWE Over Use Of WCW Themes
A licensing inquiry by THQ led one songwriter to file a federal lawsuit against WWE, WWE-owned company Stephanie Music Publishing, Inc., WWE employee Michael Seitz (a/k/a Michael “P.S.” Hayes) and WWE employee James Alan Johnston (a/k/a Jim Johnston). According to a lawsuit filed by songwriter James D. Papa, the sports entertainment organization redirected royalty payments to several wrestling related songs he either wrote or co-wrote by securing the rights to music unlawfully.
The songs in question are featured in the 1992 WCW compilation album Slam Jam 1 and were used as entrance themes by wrestlers. The songs include “Badstreet USA” (The Fabulous Freebirds), “Don’t Step To Ron” (Ron Simmons), “Man Called Sting” (Sting), “Mr. Bang Bang” (Cactus Jack), “Master of the DDT” (Jake “The Snake” Roberts), “Freebird Forever” (The Fabulous Freebirds), “Simply Ravishing” (“Ravishing” Rick Rude), “Johnny B. Badd,” “The Natural” (“The Natural” Dustin Rhodes) “The Dragon” (Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat), “He’s Smokin” (Barry Windham) and “Steinerized” (The Steiner Brothers).
Papa says he was contacted by video-game company THQ for permission to license “Badstreet USA” for its Legends of WrestleMania title that was released in March 2009. The lawsuit alleges, “THQ’s records showed the song to be owned by World Wrestling Entertainment.” The suit continues:
“As a result of the confusion, Papa contacted BMI to ensure that ‘Badstreet USA’ was properly registered to him and his companies. Upon his investigation, Papa learned that ‘Badstreet USA’ had been improperly and erroneously reregistered by Defendants and been given a new registration number, resulting in the royalties being redirected to Defendants. Eventually, through working with BMI, Papa was able to correct the registration to properly reflect his ownership in the work. However, by the time the registration was corrected, THQ had decided not to use the song.”
The suit says, “His investigation revealed a systematic pattern of errors and omissions by WWE personnel that effectively misappropriated Papa’s musical works and deprived the Plaintiffs of royalty payments that would have been paid but for these errors and omissions.” According to BMI.com, “Mr. Bang Bang” has two separate registration numbers: one for Papa, another that credits James Alan Johnston as songwriter and Stephanie Music Publishing as publisher. Johnston is WWE’s longtime music composer while Stephanie Music Publishing is a company owned by Vince McMahon that was named after his daughter, Stephanie.
Papa says his songs have appeared on myriad places including numerous video releases, broadcasts of cable television shows and on-demand programming, without his permission and without receiving financial compensation. He is seeking royalties paid (plus pre- and post- judgment interest) on the sale of videos, computer games, the sale or licensing of ring tones, and the broadcasts of cable television shows and on-demand programming; a preliminary and permanent injunction to halt the use of the copyrighted materials; an order directing the named defendants to file a report detailing how they have complied with the injunction; reimbursement for legal fees; and a trial by jury where the court will determine damages. He also wants the court to certify that he owns the rights to the music.
The entire complaint is available here.