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The Weinstein Co. has lost its appeal to secure the title The Butler for its upcoming Lee Daniels-directed movie. However, TWC can re-title the movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The appeals board of the MPAA’s Title Registration Bureau ruled Friday that TWC will also have to pay $400,000 in fines plus other penalties for “willful violation of the TRB rules.”
Originally, the TRB said that TWC could not use the title The Butler and also could not use any variation on that title even though TWC had previously registered Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Friday’s appeals ruling allowing TWC to call the movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler is “clearly a pretty big victory for us,” said TWC spokesperson Dani Weinstein. “Our biggest concern had been that we wouldn’t be able to use the words ‘the butler’ at all.”
Warner Bros., which had contested TWC rights to use the title The Butler, had no comment on the ruling.
In its original finding July 2, the TRB ruled against The Weinstein Co., saying it had no right under TRB rules to use the title, which also belongs to a 1916 short film that is now part of the Warners library. TWC was told to stop promoting the movie, which opens Aug. 16, under the title The Butler or face fines of $25,000 a day. At that time, TRB also ruled that TWC could not use the word “butler” in any alternative title, but since TWC had earlier registered Lee Daniels’ The Butler as an alternative title, that set the stage for a possible solution to the standoff.
And, in fact, the appeals board did decide that TWC could use the word “butler” in the title, subject to certain restrictions — “all letters of all words in the title must be in the same size and prominence as the size and prominence of the word ‘butler,’ except that if the name ‘Lee Daniels’ is used in the title, then ‘Lee Daniels’ must be of a size of at least 75% and of equal prominence of the word ‘butler’.”
Finding that TWC had been “in continuous violation” of the July 2 ruling, the appeals board laid down a series of fines: As a sanction for those violations, it must pay $400,000 to the Entertainment Industry Foundation. It also ordered TWC to pay another $100,000 to EIF as well as Warners’ legal fees in an amount not to exceed $150,000.
If TWC were to violate the new ruling, it would face fines of $25,000 a day, increasing to $50,000 a day after July 26 if it is not in compliance in all its digital advertising materials and after Aug. 2 for its print materials.
In the wake of the original July 2 ruling, TWC enlisted attorney David Boies, who fired off letters to the MPAA and Warners threatening a restraining order and making an antitrust violation claim. A Warners attorney responded to Boies by accusing TWC of a “disturbing pattern and practice of flagrant [Title Registration Bureau] rules violations.”
Taking the position that by not allowing it the use of the title The Butler, TWC charged that the MPAA and Warners could harm a movie that focused on major moments in the nation’s struggle for civil rights. Harvey Weinstein appeared on CBS This Morning to argue his case and also drew support from Daniels, Jesse Jackson and the NAACP.
The movie, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, is based on the life Eugene Allen, who served as a White House butler through eight administrations.