Lawsuit filed over merchandising rights to Luchasaurus mask design (Updated Apr 10)

Original article posted January 26, 2023.

Click here to jump to updates on this case posted at the bottom of this article

A lawsuit was filed last month over the mask design used by AEW wrestler Luchasaurus. 

Composite Effects, LLC made a legal complaint, dated December 20, against All Elite Wrestling and Austin Matelson, claiming that AEW and Matelson, who performs as Luchasaurus, are using a copyrighted mask design for merchandising purposes without the designer’s permission. The Louisiana-based designer states that it “owns licensing and design rights on all of our characters.”

“Matelson was entitled to use the mask in events as a wrestler,” the plaintiff wrote, “but neither he nor anyone acting on his behalf was entitled to create merchandise that incorporated the mask design.”

The lawsuit shows various examples of the mask depicted in AEW’s merchandise advertisements, including T-shirts and action figures, which the design company claims infringe on its copyright.

Matelson worked with Composite Effects (abbreviated as CFX) initially around December 2016 to have a modified version made of the design CFX calls “Viper Silicone Mask”, according to the complaint. The mask was modified again for the wrestler in March 2019, just months before AEW’s first live events, to add horns to the mask.

When CFX learned that Matelson signed with AEW in 2019, the company tried to come to a licensing agreement with him, according to email records included with the lawsuit.

Later, in February 2021, CFX and AEW personnel began communicating about a new custom mask, which AEW bought the rights to, and which the plaintiff stated was shipped in August 2021. However, the custom mask wasn’t used much, if at all.

“Hey man thanks for the work on the new mask but after getting a look of it on my face Tony and I agreed my current mask is just too iconic at this point and we can’t change the face,” Matelson wrote, according to emails provided as exhibits by CFX. Matelson apparently was referring to Tony Khan, CEO of AEW.

CFX says it wrote subsequent messages in 2022 to AEW and Matelson asking them to stop using the design or come to a licensing agreement, but no deal was made and the design continued to be used in AEW merchandise.

The plaintiff also included a written declaration from another designer, George Frangadakis, who CFX says was approached by Matelson in January 2022 to create a mask similar to the design that CFX holds the copyright to.

Matelson and an associate known merely as “Jett” wanted “a near replica of CFX’s custom-designed mask,” according to the statement signed by Frangadakis.

“It was clear that there were legal issues that needed to be handled prior to my designing a new mask for Matelson,” Frangadakis wrote.

Frangadakis’s statement says he offered to create a new mask that didn’t resemble the CFX design, but he wasn’t contacted again by Jett or Matelson.

A certificate of registration for the design referred to as “Viper Silicone Mask” was included as an exhibit with the complaint.

Composite Effects is seeking profits AEW has made related to the alleged infringement, other damages sustained as a result, and attorneys’ fees.

We contacted AEW officials for comment but haven’t yet received a response.

Composite Effects is being represented by Kean Miller LLP.

The case is filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, where CFX is based.

Update February 7, 2023:

AEW requested on February 1 an extension to respond to the complaint by February 22. AEW’s request was approved by Judge Eldon E. Fallon on February 2. AEW is represented by Brad Harrigan from New Orleans-based law firm Tolar Harrigan & Morris LLC. Harrigan also submitted a motion on February 1 for Indiana lawyer Bradley Stohry, from Reichel Stohry Dean LLP, to represent AEW in Louisiana.

Update February 17, 2023:

AEW requested an extension to March 21 to respond to the complaint from Composite Effects, consistent with the deadline for Austin Mattelson (Luchasaurus) to respond. Composite Effects consented to the extension, according to the statement.

Update February 23, 2023:

On February 22, the judge in the case, Eldon E. Fallon approved AEW’s request to have an extension to respond by March 21, according to a filing.

Update March 21, 2023:

AEW moved today to dismiss five of the six counts raised by Composite Effects. AEW’s lawyer said the company will answer the remaining count after a decision is made on this motion.

AEW argued the five counts it says should be dismissed first either fail to make a viable claim or are preempted by the Copyright Act.

Later in the day Composite Effects (CFX) filed a proposed amended complaint, alleging Matelson had another mask maker create a similar mask that infringes on their copyrighted work, which CFX said is a breach of contract.

Update March 23, 2023:

A pro hac vice motion was submitted on March 22 for Austin Matelson (Luchasaurus) to have his own attorney in this case. Ohio lawyer Matthew T. Kemp has moved to represent Matelson in Louisiana.

Kemp is with the law firm, Shumaker Loop & Kendrick in Toledo, Ohio. That happens to be the firm Mike Dockins is from, the trademark lawyer who works with many wrestlers.

Pro hac vice is a common motion used to admit a lawyer who is licensed in another state but not in the case’s jurisdiction.

Update April 10, 2023:

On March 24, Judge Fallon approved the filing into the record of Composite Effects’ (CFX’s) amended complaint.

On April 7, lawyers representing Austin Matelson (Luchasaurus) submitted a motion to dismiss CFX’s complaint based on failure to state a claim.

Matelson’s attorneys wrote that CFX fails to plausibly allege that the modified versions of the Luchasaurus mask are “substantially similar” to the “Viper Silicone Mask” that CFX claims as its copyright.

Substantial similarity is defined, according to the attorneys who cite case law, as a similarity by which “an ‘ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities, would be disposed to overlook them, and regard [the] aesthetic appeal as the same.'”

Portion of the defendant’s motion to dismiss. First row: Three modified versions of the Luchasaurus mask; Second row: The “Viper Silicone Mask” that CFX claims as its copyrighted work.

At Matelson’s request, the Viper Silicon Mask was modified by CFX in or around December 2016. In March 2019, another modification was made to add horns.

“It is evident from these pictures that the Luchasaurus Mask differs from the Copyright Work in much more than simply the addition of horns,” Matelson’s lawyers argued. “Most obviously, the Luchasaurus Mask is an entirely different shape, covering only the front part of the face above the mouth, rather than covering the full head with a cowl extending to the shoulders.”

Matelson later had a third version of the mask made by a different mask maker, the “Olaja Mask”, seen on the far right in the first row of the image above, which the wrestler’s attorneys said has even more differences than earlier iterations of the design. The shape and placement of scales are different, his lawyers say, as well as a difference in the mouth hole shape, and the presence of raised cheek ridges.

On the subject of breach of contract, Matelson’s representatives said, “[T]here is no allegation that Matelson–by engaging in two custom sales transactions with CFX–agreed to be bound by the general terms and conditions displayed on CFX’s website.”

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

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