WWE files suit against THQ, Jakks

World Wrestling Entertainment asks court to nullify THQ's license to produce WWE games; alleges bribery and racketeering scheme.

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World Wrestling Entertainment today announced that the company has filed suit against video game publisher and WWE license holder THQ, toy manufacturer Jakks Pacific, and related defendants. The WWE alleges that the video game license held by THQ and Jakks, which is currently in effect through December 2009, was obtained via a far-reaching "commercial bribery scheme." The WWE has asked the New York District Court to declare the license void and unenforceable.

In total, the papers filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York comprise 14 different counts of racketeering, bribery, money-laundering, and other such charges. Defendants named in the suit are Jakks Pacific, Inc.; THQ, Inc.; former WWE licensing agent Stanley Shenker & Associates, Inc. (SSAI); Bell Licensing, LLC; highest-ranking Jakks executives Jack Friedman, Stephen Berman, and Joel Bennett; Stanley Shenker; and former WWE senior vice president of licensing and merchandising James Bell.

“WWE’s intellectual property is a valuable asset of the Company, and we believe the actions taken today are necessary to preserve the integrity of our licensing process and essential to ensure that WWE receives appropriate and fair compensation for the grant of a license to use our intellectual property,” WWE chief executive officer Linda McMahon said in a statement released today.

THQ responded to GameSpot's inquiries this afternoon with a "no comment."

The bare-bones version of the scheme alleged in the suit is as follows: In 1998, Bell conspired with SSAI to accept and split over $100,000 worth of bribes from Jakks, then use Bell's position as director of licensing and SSAI's position as WWE's licensing agent to convince the WWE to give its lucrative video game license to Jakks when the terms of its earlier agreement with Acclaim expired.

At this time, the WWE says, other game publishers like THQ and Activision submitted proposals for the license. Both deals were "clearly superior" to the Jakks proposal, but were turned down. The WWE alleges that Bell and SSAI hid the proposals from WWE management, and then advised Jakks to create a superior offer. According to the allegations in the suit, Jakks, not having any video game division, then proposed a joint venture with THQ to obtain the license. THQ agreed to the proposal, and has produced WWE video games ever since.

The WWE seeks the nullification of the video game license as well as all damages arising from the alleged bribery scheme. The entire court filing can be found on WWE's corporate Web site. GameSpot will update this story as it develops.

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