Warner Bros. Wins ‘The Butler’ Arbitration Over Weinstein Co.

The Butler Forest Whitaker

TWC required to select new title

Warner Bros. has won an arbitration over the Weinstein Co. over the title for “The Butler,” requiring TWC to select another title.

But TWC has brushed off the ruling and hired high-powered attorney David Boies to handle an appeal and possible lawsuit.

The arbitration was conducted Tuesday through MPAA’s Title Registration Bureau, which has long been used by the industry to regulate use of titles.

“TWC made continuous use of the unregistered title in willful violation of the TRB rules,” the ruling said.

The ruling requires TWC to remove the word “Butler” from its marketing, promotional and other material related to the film.

Warner Bros. had asserted it has rights to the title, due to its ownership of a 1916 comedy short of the same name, and that TWC did not clear the title with Warner Bros. Boies blasted the ruling in a statement.

“The suggestion that there is a danger of confusion between TWC’s 2013 feature movie and a 1917 short that has not been shown in theaters, television, DVDs, or in any other way for almost a century makes no sense,” Boies said. “The award has no purpose except to restrict competition and is contrary to public policy.”

The Butler” stars Forest Whitaker as the African-American servant who worked in the White House during eight presidencies. TWC has set the film for an Aug. 16 release in the U.S.

The MPAA describes the bureau as a voluntary central registration entity for titles of movies intended for U.S. theatrical distribution. The aim is to “prevent public confusion over films with similar titles.”

The ensemble drama, directed by Lee Daniels, also stars Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Liev Schreiber, Aml Ameen, Alan Rickman, James Marsden, Jane Fonda and Robin Williams.

Danny Strong wrote the script, based on Wil Haygood’s Washington Post article about White House employee Eugene Allen. Daniels is producing with Hilary Shor, Cassian Elwes and Pam Williams of Laura Ziskin Prods.

Haygood’s article, titled “A Butler Well Served by This Election,” was  published in November 2008, three days after Barack Obama’s election. Allen worked for eight presidents, starting with Harry Truman in 1952 and ending in 1986 with Ronald Reagan.

Warner Bros. did not comment for this report.

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  1. Congratulations WB. You’ve won a petty and ridiculous lawsuit and defended your 100 year old film from being confused with one made in 21st Century. You should hope the film does not become a critical hit, otherwise it will be dredged up again how it appears you tried to hinder a well intentioned film about social change during awards season.

  2. Type in “STOLEN LIFE” on imdb.com and you will find and you will find 7 of the same or similar titles.

  3. But… I saw a trailer with “The Butler” last night!

  4. Frank W says:

    Warner’s is way out of line with this fight, but as I said before, they are still smarting over The Enforcer in the 70s. If the argument is that TWC didn’t follow the rules, then fine but I think this is just sour grapes. I would just let go of “The Butler”. I like Helise Flickstein’s suggestion of “The President’s Help” because its more descriptive of the eras covered and the implied racial and class divisions that the story probably tells.

    And I guess I better get all of my Titles registered before someone else does.

  5. What are we getting into here? I don’t care what planet you’re on, the pettiness found in a fribbling lawsuit is a slow walk to the courthouse — not intended to exculpate The Weinstein Company but for them to payout (green-mail) in a settlement for the use of a title.

    How many non-reboot, reiterative film titles have we seen? BLIND DATE, RUNNING SCARED, CRASH, et al. David Cronenberg said, “The last thing a creative person wants is litigation, which is anti-creative.”

  6. The President’s Help is a title suggestion.

  7. Ralcarbo says:

    There’s no such thing as bad publicity in Hollywood.

  8. CitizenTM says:

    Lawyers having fun? HW maybe having given the birdie to some WB honcho? Who knows what motivated this!? Not a fan of HW (who is?) – but this is an insane overreach by WB.

  9. Elliott Yancey says:

    Thanks Rich. It will be sorted out of court. It’s a monetary thing and TWC has deep pockets. New title won’t affect the performance of the film. “Serving the White House” or “Serving the White House”. Watch this space.

  10. Pete Moss says:

    Thank god they are clearing this up. It would have been embarrassing for me to tell my date I thought Forest Whitaker held up incredibly well over the past 100 years.

  11. what? says:

    I don’t understand WB’s motivation at all. Is this because of a previous grudge or something?

    Enforcing this pathetic claim about a 1916 short that 3 people on the planet have ever heard of, this sounds like a joke from a movie making fun of Hollywood.

    What’s in it for them?

    Hollywood is really a circus sometimes.

    • Frank W says:

      When I was in high school, I remember they were sued over the title of the third Dirty Harry movie, The Enforcer. So it is a previous grudge.

      • Wasn’t the previous “The Enforcer” a vehicle for Humphrey Bogart? At least that film had less than 98 years between the two and had a significant star.

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