Well, that didn't take long, did it? The introduction of the Thunderdome, WWE's new arena for Raw and Smackdown that features walls of LCD screens displaying the faces of fans "attending" the shows virtually, seemed like a way for WWE to bring fans back to shows… but is it really a way to permanently eliminate the need for them? A fan who previously attended a WWE Thunderdome event noticed her video feed being used in a clip from this week's episode of NXT, even though she wasn't virtually attending the show and was instead watching AEW Dynamite, leading to questions about how many of the Thunderdome screens actually feature live fans and whether WWE will soon have enough footage to make their entire audience a giant deep fake.
Jessi Davin wrote on Twitter, responding to a photo from NXT posted on WWE's Twitter account, "Why is WWE using stock footage of old Thunderdome participants in the Capitol Wresting Center lololol I am NOT THERE I am watching #AEWDynamite." Davin's Twitter feed, which features live commentary on last night's Dynamite, backs up her claim. Davin added, "Y'all I have zero problem with it. I'm actually flattered they thought my footage was good enough to use twice. I'm not outraged, either. When you agree to enter the Thunderdome you agree to the terms and conditions. I'm sure this was in there in the famed wall of text." She also called the incident "really cool and exciting to me," making clear that she wasn't upset by the usage.
Davin is correct about the Thunderdome terms and conditions. In fact, by agreeing to those terms and conditions, assuming they hold up legally, you grant WWE the right to use not only that footage, but also your "likeness," described as collectively "your image, name, screen name, voice, likeness and/or biographical information" for pretty much anything they want, in perpetuity (which means forever, or as long as is legally allowed depending on the country). Specifically, that likeness can be used "in connection with the exploitation, advertising, promotion and/or packaging of the Footage or any WWE initiatives, promotions or campaigns and/or any product into which the Footage may be incorporated, including but not limited to, inclusion as part of the WWE ThunderDome of another WWE program, editorial, commercial, trade, print, advertising, promotional, radio, television, home video, motion picture programs, sound recordings, video games, social media related activities and games or for any other purpose at such times and in such manner as WWE may elect," as well as "to broadcast, exhibit and/or exploit the same in any and all media, whether now or hereafter known or devised (including, but not limited to, television, radio, motion pictures, streaming, downloads, online, physical media, print and public display)." The terms go on to say, "the Footage shall be deemed created for the benefit of WWE as a work made for hire as defined in the United States Copyright Act of 1976 WWE, its designees and broadcasters may edit or alter the Footage without your approval and without notice to you but if you do own any rights in the Footage (including but not limited to the right to exploit, copy, distribute, edit, broadcast, perform, communicate to the public, participate in the benefits of resale, transform and create derivative works) you hereby assign them to WWE, free of charge, on an exclusive and worldwide basis, and for the full term of protection, as and when they are created, for all purposes whatsoever, including but not limited to commercial use, advertising and marketing."
In other words, WWE can use not only that footage but your name and likeness for any project they want, in any media they want (even if that media doesn't exist yet), forever, or in places where "forever" is not allowed by law, for 100 years, 50 years, or the maximum legally permitted time. So if WWE wants to take that footage and produce a virtual "you" that they can program to do things like cheer, boo, or express various emotions on demand, they can do that. They can then use the virtual you to build a virtual audience for any future show. They could use it in a video game. They can do whatever they want with it, according to the terms.
And if they can do it, why wouldn't they? It's no secret that fan reactions have long been a problem with WWE. The company has spent the last two decades struggling against the wishes of its fanbase, basing their storylines and the pushes their wrestlers receive on marketing plans more than crowd response. That's caused problems when, for example, WWE presents Roman Reigns as a beloved babyface but fans boo him mercilessly. WWE has already partially solved that problem with the Thunderdome, where they have fan's faces on virtual screens but heavily sweeten the audio with pre-recorded crowd noise in such a way that they can already completely control what the audience sounds like. With a little more work, they can control what the audience looks like too, and what they're doing on the screens. It's like Vince McMahon's wet dream come true.