FROM JHAWK'S BEAK
An Open Letter to the WWF's Legal Department
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this particular column do not necessarily express those of the slashwrestling.com staff or the author himself. It is used exclusively for imformative and entertainment purposes.
Hi again, wrestling fans, and welcome to another exciting edition of "From JHawk's Beak". I've actually been working on this little gem most of the week, so I'd appreciate any feedback at all on this one. As always, any feedback I get may just get your name in print.
Before I begin though, I want to address some feedback I received in Weinerville. And I addressed this on the board, but since there's about 2,000 of you who don't use message boards, I want to talk about it here. Most of my feedback was positive, but thecubsfan brought up an interesting point, which one or two of you brought up to me via e-mail as well:
This has nothing to do with the current vein of discussion, but I always find it weird how - well, if someone was doing a PPV and said "this spot is so cool, I don't want to spoil it for you", it'd be very strange. But this kinda thinking is common in Shoot Tape reviews, not just with this one.
I guess, because it's a point by point detailed recap, I don't get why you don't mention a little when you're going over so much in great detail. I'd think the difference in a review would be only bring the points and parts that help shape your opinion on the tape.
Point well taken, but I look at it this way. One of the reasons I decided to forgo some of the stories is because of one thing. I know a lot of you are interested in seeing this yourselves (judging from the amount of e-mail I've gotten requesting a tape). Simply put, some of these stories are funny and may or may not be as funny when you've heard them already. In another instance (the Bockwinkel-Stevens story) it was simply a matter of it being a bit too much too fast to be able to portray it accurately. Should I do another shoot interview review, which isn't likely since that's the only one I own, I'll take this into consideration.
Why do I bring this up? I'm just happy thecubsfan reads my work. :-)
Moving on. One of the things I'd like to do some reviews on are old WWF house shows that used to air on local cable stations. MSG, the Spectrum, Boston Garden, what have you. Here is where I need the help of you, the reader. I want to do two series of recaps in particular.
1. The Bob Backlund-Greg Valentine held-up title controversy. I have their second match (11/23/1981) but need their first (10/17/1981).
2. The transition of the WWF Title, from Backlund's loss to the Iron Sheik (12/26/1983), to the Sheik's lone "televised" title defense (Spectrum--1/21/1984), and ending with Hogan's title victory (1/23/1984). These I have, but my tape of 12/26/1983 does not include the entire card. Push comes to shove I'll do this series with the one I have but I'd like to do the entire card if possible. For the record, the complete card should have nine matches. If your copy doesn't, don't e-mail me.
Normally I wouldn't ask so blatantly for tapes, but the WWF's getting real picky of their footage showing up on ebay. Which brings me to today's column...
To whom it may concern:
You don't know me. You've never seen my face. And yet you do know me. It seems you indirectly contacted me because I allegedly violated copyright laws.
Recently, I put two of the wrestling videos I have in my collection up on ebay. These tapes included some footage from WWF house shows from the Philadelphia Spectrum and Madison Square Garden from the early 1980s. Well, in checking my e-mail a few hours ago, I received an e-mail from ebay saying that these auctions were ended because World Wrestling Federation Entertainment said these were possibly violating copyright laws.
Don't get me wrong. I understand that there are people out there who are simply out to make a quick buck, and if they can use the WWF name to do it, then so be it. Well, I am not in that school of thought. I consider myself a tape collector. I am simply a fan who loves to watch wrestling and wants to see as much of the classic footage as I can. But by searching the internet high and low for anything that might resemble a violation, you're sending a message that being a fan is against the law.
See, the average fan is not aware of things like copyright law. Maybe as far as the law goes, "Ignorance isn't an excuse for breaking the law," as a college professor once told me. But the majority of us wouldn't see it as violating copyright law. We would see it as selling our own personal property. Last I checked, if I decided I wanted to sell my entire videotape collection, then as long as it didn't contain child pornography I would be able to do so.
But it isn't even that that bothers me in this case. It's the way things are worded. The way things are worded, you can't even tape something off of TV just to have it. Then what exactly is the purpose of a VCR having a record button? It's a Video Cassette *Recorder*, but a Video Cassette Player of only things you've bought commercially.
On top of that, wwf.com has house shows the days of Raw and SmackDown! beginning at the end of March...with a disclaimer to tape the shows for later viewing? So which is it? And if they forget to tape it, are they allowed to buy their friend's copy should they not want it anymore? Or do we automatically burn the tape after that?
The main thing you need to look at when dealing with matters like this is the type of footage being auctioned off. I'll agree that it is very wrong to sell copyrighted material if it is readily available, so as a general rule, I wouldn't put an auction up on ebay of any commercial release that was dated from 1998 or later, or any WrestleMania, because you could go to wwfshopzone.com or your local video store and pick up that copy. The problem is you hit a fine line with things like old MSG or Spectrum footage. This is footage that isn't readily available to the general public and if it was ever on video *might* have been released on Coliseum Video (which hasn't even been in business since 1997). The only chance to see any classic footage is to either live in England or watch Excess, and most of what airs on Excess is readily available.
And the WWF's legal department has not only targeted videotape websites, but pretty much any website that so much as links to WWF or WCW footage. The Smarks had to take down an audioclip. WrestleCrap is gone, and they even asked for permission to use the footage. Several sites had to take down their WWF and WCW collections, and some of them weren't even selling the footage, they just happened to have it.
I am not writing this to anger you. I am not writing this to upset you. I'm not even writing this to gain permission to sell this footage. I'm only writing this as a concerned fan who values the history of wrestling. If people aren't allowed to have access to this footage, then who is ever going to think of wrestling the way it ought to be? It's very cool to see the old footage put to Kid Rock music, but that doesn't match up to seeing it.
The fact that your legal department is scouring the internet looking to put a damper on any of this footage is a shame. But it should tell you something. There is clearly a market for this sort of footage. People want to see it. And until WWFE, Inc. starts that 24-hour wrestling channel that fans have been clamoring for since the WCW purchase, people are going to try to get it through ebay or some other avenue. I'll even offer to help program the thing. I love the old footage and I work cheap.
Out of respect to your wishes and to federal copyright law, no WCW or WWF footage will ever be on ebay by my hand. But to solve the bigger problem, it's going to take more than simply sending out cease and desist orders. It's going to mean making that footage available a little at the time. If that means giving us the wrestling channel we've been asking for, or making Excess a two-hour version of From the Vault, or re-releasing the older footage on WWF Home Video every month (WWF Home Video re-released Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling, for crying out loud), or implmenting all three of those choices, then do it. In fact, the combination of all three is probably the only way your mission will be accomplished.