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WWE INFORMS TALENTS THEY CANNOT USE THEIR OWN NAMES AND LIKENESS WITH 'THIRD PARTIES' IF WWE DEEMS IT 'DETRIMENTAL' TO COMPANY

By Mike Johnson on 2020-09-04 17:27:00

World Wrestling Entertainment notified their talents yesterday via email stating that going forward, talents who are using their “name and likeness in ways that are detrimental” to WWE with "third parties" must cease doing so by Friday 10/2 and if they do not, they risk fines, suspension or termination going forward.

The vague wording of the email has already led to a lot of talent concerns over what exactly is now allowed and what isn’t.   Some talents have already reacted negatively to the request, feeling it was in effect an order to shut down their personal streaming channels (since Twitch, YouTube, etc. could be considered a "third party"), although there is no confirmation that is actually the case.

The belief is there will be more explained to talents at this week's TV tapings.

In recent months, a number of talents have taken to streaming live on Twitch to connect with their fans and obviously, make money through Twitch's monetization systems.  Some chat with fans.  Some play video games alongside them while talking about different topics, including and beyond their WWE exploits.  A number of other talents have launched personal YouTube channels where they create and produce their own content, monetizing the videos via advertising and promoting their own personal brands and interests outside of the scope of their WWE personalities.    Still others have taken to delivering video messages to fans via Cameo.com, a service that allows fans to purchase personalized greetings as gifts from celebrities.  In many cases, these are done using the talents' real names, not their WWE personas, although obviously, it's the same person.

In speaking to talents today, to a person, they described using those platforms as a way to make additional revenue for themselves during the pandemic since WWE has halted touring of live events and without those events, that means no bonuses or merchandise royalties.  In many cases, talents who have created streaming channels aren't names that are necessarily being heavily merchandised by the company, although there are exceptions to that, such as AJ Styles, who recently began streaming on Twitch, coming on board that streaming service after streaming on another platform, Mixer.  

For talents who aren't on the level of a Styles, however, creating and building the streaming channels was seen as a fun opportunity to build their own brands, interact with their audience and make some money under their real names to offset the loss of revenue that came with the pandemic.    For that reason as well as the belief that they have the ability to create their own content on their own time, WWE's email has led to some grumbling among those who feel WWE was now hurting their ability to make outside money during a time period where their own WWE earnings are hurt by the pandemic.  

Some pushed the idea that losing the freedom to promote themselves while working for WWE makes working somewhere else, that would allow for more freedom, far more enticing but the reality is that in most cases (not all, but most), the talents stay where they are, no matter how upset they might be at a situation.

From a WWE perspective, they are obviously trying to protect what they feel is their intellectual property and that's something that all entertainment companies have always taken very seriously.  Certainly, when a talent signs a WWE contract, they are agreeing to sign away certain rights for WWE to utilize during the length of that contract.  If the talents were appearing outside of WWE as their characters or portraying themselves as those characters - for example Saraya Knight appearing as Paige, as opposed to appearing under her real name - certainly WWE would be well within their rights to object to that, just as they could if someone used their WWE ring name while appearing on an independent wrestling show.    

WWE's goal here is no different than what Disney’s would be in the same case - to protect their brand and IP from being exploited by others in a way the company doesn't approve of.  There is a massive gray area here, because Disney doesn’t have to worry about Mickey Mouse working on his own projects.  In this case, for WWE talents, where does the line get drawn when those potentially exploiting WWE’s Intellectual Property would be the talents themselves?  Where does the line get drawn between for example, Saraya Knight and Paige, especially in a world where WWE has portrayed her under her real name on a reality series?  

Of course it's entirely possible that WWE simply wants any such ventures to come through the company, so they are in control of the talents, how they are utilized and portrayed.  There's no word whether this means WWE is looking to do more beyond what they currently produce on streaming platforms or whether they want to launch their own Cameo clone, etc.

Over the last 24 hours, there has been a lot of talk among talents about pushing back against WWE's edict if they are indeed being required to shut down their personal streaming channels, but whether that actually happens or not remains to be seen.   As of now, talents don’t have clear clarification of what is and is not allowed going forward, and until they do, their concerns won’t be alleviated, especially when they are being told that they cannot use their own likeness, in essence, their own face, for outside projects.

So far, no word yet from WWE.

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