from the foreign-object-in-the-ring dept
Professional wrestling league, the WWE, is truly a lesson in paradoxes. A theatrical production presented as an athletic competition sets the stage for a business that at times can't quite seem to figure out exactly how it wants to behave. On the one hand, you have their plan to embrace a streaming product that leaves much of the rest of the "sporting" world to shame. On the other hand, WWE executives have been known to protect their intellectual property on a level bordering insanity.
In this latest story, executives for WWE seem to be channeling one of their in-the-ring evil personas, in which they pretend to offer up an apology to a streaming site operator all in an attempt to sneak his identity and contact information from him. It all starts with battling a website designed to bring wrestling fans the streaming they wanted (note: this was before WWE offered its own streaming service):
During March 2013, Facebook said that WWE Intellectual Property Director Matthew Winterroth was behind the closure of a page operated by Wrestling-Network, a site offering links to WWE streams and shows. Wrestling-Network operator ‘BeBe’ was told by the social network that he would need to contact the lawyer directly to solve the dispute. BeBe decided to quit Facebook and moved to Twitter instead, but by the summer WWE had raised its head again, this time after PayPal disabled an account used for the site’s finances. BeBe says that in October WWE sent a takedown notice to Cloudflare, who handed over the details of the site’s actual host. For a few months things went calm, but last week all that changed. PayPal closed the site’s new account which had been opened by a third-party, and Facebook shutdown Wrestling-Network’s new page and BeBe’s personal page while they were at it.It's a story that feels as old as the bible these days. Guy runs sites pointing to links of illegitimate streams, content producer works to take the site down, cat-and-mouse game commences. Now, we could have a long discussion about how links aren't themselves infringement, about how WWE could (and it appears eventually did) offer a competing legitimate service, and all the rest. This isn't that post, however, because it was around this time that things got a bit strange. BeBe did as he was asked and reached out to the WWE to resolve the issue. In his communique, he offered up only his handle and his email address.
Winterroth responded to BeBe, suggesting the takedown of his site may have been a mistake. It seems unlikely Winterroth was being honest about this, since he was the one named in the takedowns. Stranger, a follow-up email from Winterroth requested BeBe's real name and address, promising a WWE giftbag and an apology for taking down the sites. BeBe wasn't taking.
“I mean, I heard a long time ago about a case where in order to arrest them on US territory, some guys were attracted to the USA by undercover FBI agents who promised them money and girls, but a gift bag from WWE? Really? He could at least given me some WrestleMania tickets.”Winterroth's response had, shall we say, a slightly different tone. He tells BeBe he's tracked him down to Romania and promises to send the blackshirts over for a visit.
BeBe says he politely declined the offer.
“Should you not shut down the website and agree not to infringe WWE intellectual property in the future in an immediate fashion, WWE will continue to work with our counsel in Romania, as well as the relevant legal authorities, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs/Bucharest City Police and Romanian National Audiovisual Council on our ongoing criminal complaint against you.”From there, the exchanges devolved, on both sides, into threats from the WWE and BeBe's sophomoric attempts to remind Winterroth that Romania is actually a country outside of the United States, where US copyright law is as applicable as federal payroll taxes. Nobody comes out clean in the exchange, with both sides behaving like children.
What followed were demands for BeBe to hand over his domain but with tempers beginning to fray, that seemed unlikely.
Which is the entire point: if I can't tell the difference between a guy running a streaming-links site and the counsel for a multi-milliion dollar entertainment business, we have a problem. Also, false apologies and underhanded attempts to sneak contact information out of a guy who is just running a site linking to what might be legitimate targets for corporate counsel make everyone look oily. Finally, this seems like an awful lot of energy to spend on this situation, particularly when the release of a real damned streaming product to compete with the "pirates" was just around the corner. So, for all that work, Winterroth likely gets nothing other than a single link site taken down, while the folks putting together the streaming site actually work to make the company more money. It makes one wonder which side is getting the higher pay in this equation.