MPAA permits Weinstein Co. to use ‘Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’ title
This post has been updated. See below for details.
The spirit of compromise prevailed late Friday in the drawn-out legal battle over the title of director Lee Daniels’ upcoming historical drama “The Butler.”
The MPAA overturned its original ruling from earlier this month that would have forced the Weinstein Co.-distributed film – which stars Forrest Whitaker as a domestic servant who worked for eight sitting presidents in the White House -- to strike the word “butler” from its title because a 1916 silent comedy short called “The Butler” already exists in the Warner Bros. archives.
The new decision allows for the use of “butler” in conjunction with other words – most likely “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” – stipulating that the lettering for the words “Lee Daniels” has to be at least 75% the size of the words “The Butler.”
The new ruling arrives on the heels of no small amount of legal head-banging and public hair-splitting between Warner Bros. and Weinstein Co. In early July, Weinstein Co.’s high-powered attorney, David Boies, fired off letters to the MPAA and Warner Bros. disputing allegations that it had flouted the MPAA’s title registration process. And Daniels sent a heartfelt personal appeal to Warner Bros. Entertainment Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara (the studio boss responded with a private letter).
Warner Bros. attorney John Spiegel went on to slam Weinstein Co. in a letter to the MPAA in which he points to the independent studio’s “disturbing pattern and practice of flagrant [Title Registration Bureau] rules violations.”
Harvey Weinstein of Weinstein Co. appeared on CBS’s “This Morning” to air his greivances – incidentally drumming up hype for the film, which arrives in theaters Aug. 16 – where he pointed out that “122 times in the history of movies titles have been used and repeated.” Case in point: the Melissa McCarthy-Sandra Bullock buddy cop comedy “The Heat,” the Robert DeNiro-Al Pacino crime thriller “Heat” and the 1986 Burt Reynolds action flick “Heat.”
Under the new MPAA ruling, news of which Variety broke Friday evening, Weinstein Co. now owes the Entertainment Industry Foundation $400,000 for continuing to use the title “The Butler” in violation of the MPAA’s original order. The independent studio will have to pony up $25,000 per day if it continues to use the unaltered title “The Butler” – a sum that will bump up to $50,000 per day if advertising, trailers and websites billing the movie as “The Butler” are not pulled by July 26. Weinstein Co. has also been ordered to pay Warner Bros. $150,000 in legal fees.
(Update: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that Deadline broke the news of this ruling. Variety posted its report at 7:34 pm, a full six minutes ahead of Deadline’s.)
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