In a mixed ruling, The Weinstein Co. will be allowed to use some form of “The Butler” in the title of the Lee Daniels movie — but will have to change its marketing materials and pay $400,000 in fines for violating the July 2 ruling by the MPAA.
Despite the requirement of a title change and the fines, TWC was quick to declare victory from the MPAA’s ruling on its appeal, asserting that the July 2 ruling by the MPAA’s Title Registration Bureau had been overturned.
But Friday’s appeals ruling, which found that TWC had been in “willful violation” of the MPAA rules, forces TWC to quickly alter its publicity campaign for the film — and face further stiffer penalties if it fails to do so.
Although TWC is allowed to use “The Butler” as part of the title, that usage comes with the condition that all words in the title have to be of the same size, unless TWC chooses to the use “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” in which case the “Lee Daniels” part of title has to be 75% the size of “The Butler.”
“The Butler” is centered on African-American butler Eugene Allen, who worked in the White House during eight presidencies throughout the civil rights era. TWC plans to release the film, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, on Aug. 16.
TWC will have pay a fine of $25,000 a day, dating back to July 2, or $400,000 for violating the initial ruling, and face stiffer penalties if it refuses to change its marketing campaign. The fine will increase to $50,000 a day if the studio fails to issue new digital materials (trailers, TV ads) by July 26 and new print materials by Aug. 2.
TWC will also have to pay $100,000 to the Entertainment Industry Foundation and up to $150,000 to cover Warner Bros.’ legal fees.
Warner Bros. had no comment on the ruling, issued Friday evening.
TWC had registered “Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler'” as a title in June with the MPAA.
Friday’s hearing before the MPAA’s Title Registration Bureau took place two and a half weeks after Warner Bros. won an arbitration over the title.
That July 2 ruling found that TWC violated WB’s title rights to “The Butler” due to the latter’s ownership of rights to a 1916 comedy by the same name — requiring TWC to remove the word “Butler” from its marketing, promotional and other material related to the film, or face fines of $25,000 a day for failure to do so.
Daniels made a personal appeal to Warner Bros. to keep the film’s title and TWC brushed off the July 2 ruling, hired high-powered attorney David Boies to handle an appeal and issued several announcements to publicize its side of the story and the film. During Friday’s hearing, it issued a press release announcing the endorsements of Rev. Jesse Jackson, NAACP president Ben Jealous and Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality.
“We are all watching and waiting for the results of today’s arbitration and hoping that Warner Bros. and the MPAA make the right decision on this important movie about civil rights,” the trio said in a statement.
The MPAA’s Title Registration Bureau has long been used by the industry to regulate use of titles. Warner Bros. has accused TWC of operating in the TRB process “with breathtaking hypocrisy” to extract concessions from other subscriber companies in order to advance TWC’s own interests.
(Rachel Abrams contributed to this report.)