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.”
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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.