International Copyright Infringement | Case Summary: WWE vs. Savio Fernandes

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Case name: World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc v. Savio Fernandes & Ors

Citation: 2015 SCC Del 6716

Judge: Justice Manmohan Singh

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) filed a case alleging copyright infringement and dilution of the trademark. WWE is a company incorporated in USA, having offices in various countries including India. It is an integrated media and entertainment company, mainly featuring professional wrestling. Along with weekly shows and occasional pay-per-views, it offers a variety of consumer products like apparel, posters, action figures, etc. The shows feature many wrestlers, who work on-screen characters with different traits. WWE, being the creator of these characters, holds US copyright registrations of their names, catchphrases and other attributes. Along with this, it also has registrations over the mark ‘WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT’ and the WWE Scratch Logo.

The Defendant’s infringing products

The defendants are proprietors of a shop and online store, which claim to be selling official WWE merchandise. The plaintiffs came across the defendant’s websites www.wrestlezoneindia.com and www.wrestlezone.co.in, which sell a number of products bearing names and logos belonging to WWE. In fact, they openly called themselves ‘The WWE Merchandise Store’, incorporating the scratch logo. The plaintiff then hired an independent investigator to ascertain the extent of the defendant’s activities. The findings of the independent investigator brought to light the other stores maintained by the defendant. He also bought some goods from the shop. The products were a copy of the authentic products with minor defects. Some had the neck tags torn out, some lacked the registration “®” symbol, and some prints were different.

The Plaintiff’s arguments

  1. WWE submitted that it is the creator of the characters, and holds copyright over their depiction. Both the public and the wrestlers themselves recognise these rights. The defendants illegally represented these characters and the sold products in their name without WWE’s permission. This was a blatant infringement of the Plaintiff’s copyright rights under the Copyrights Act, 1957.
  2. The defendant’s unauthorised use of WWE’s intellectual property disillusioned the consumers. Since WWE characters are immensely popular, selling their merchandise mislead the public into believing that the defendants were associated with WWE.
  3. The defendants also used the WWE trademark without permission. They also used the names of WWE talent like John Cena, Rey Mysterio, etc. This is unauthorised use of their trade name and an infringement of registered trademarks.
  4. This infringement not only harmed the plaintiff but resulted in unjust enrichment of the defendant. They mislead the public into buying counterfeit goods by using the plaintiff’s reputation.
  5. The Plaintiff then pointed out that the defendants claimed to be selling ‘Officially Licensed WWE Merchandise’. This has damaged the plaintiff’s goodwill.
  6. The unrestricted use of WWE’s trademark would gradually erode the uniqueness and exclusivity of the trademarks. Therefore, the defendant’s activities need to be curbed immediately.

The Court’s response

Summons and notices were issued to the defendants. However, they failed to respond. Considering this, the court passed a temporary injunction order against them. This restrained the defendants and their partners from selling, displaying, advertising or dealing with WWE’s registered trademarks. Additionally, two Local Commissioners were sent to examine the defendant’s goods. They found that 267 goods were counterfeit, infringing the plaintiff’s trademark. The defendants still failed to show up, while the plaintiff presented evidence to back its claims. The defendant’s non-appearance meant no rebuttals or cross-examinations.

The plaintiffs claimed Rs 10,00,500 as damages for the infringements. They referred to numerous judgements to back this claim. After hearing the proceedings, the court awarded a sum of Rs 5,00,000 to the plaintiff, along with a permanent injunction order against the defendants.

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