Producer Harvey Weinstein has a new movie opening on August 16. It’s called The Butler.
Warner Brothers doesn’t want him to release it. At least not as long as it’s called The Butler.
That’s because the name The Butler belongs to Warner Brothers, because of a short film the company produced in 1916. The title is registered with the appropriately named Title Registration Bureau of the Motion Picture Association Of America, which Hollywood studios—the Weinstein Company and Warner Brothers included—voluntarily belong to as a way to prevent confusion between projects, and arbitrate disputes.
In this case, the MPAA ruled in favor of Warner Brothers, a decision that didn’t sit well with Weinstein, who, as he is sometimes wont to do, took his fight to the media. In the last 24 hours, he’s penned an editorial on the Huffington Post and appeared on CBS This Morning to argue his case:
The short version: Weinstein insists no one is going to confuse Lee Daniels’ biopic about a man who worked in the White House with a black-and-white silent film, and accuses Warner of strong-arming him over the title to force him to relinquish his rights to Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit franchise. In response, a Warner Brothers rep told Deadline there was “‘no correlation’ between the battle over The Butler title and any rights to The Hobbit.” More importantly, rules are rules, and according to the rules of the MPAA, Warner Brothers owns The Butler.
What happens next? It’s unclear, but it’ll have to happen fast;
The Butler Untitled Lee Daniels Movie About a White House Valet Or Servant Or Steward But Definitely Not a Butler is scheduled to open next month (a fact Weinstein dropped into his CBS This Morning talking points with impressive frequency), and every day the company advertises the movie with the disputed title, it costs the Weinsteins $25,000 in MPAA fines.
There are 38 days between now and August 16. That’s a potential penalty of almost a million bucks. If that seems like too steep a price to pay for the title, maybe a replacement is in order. How about White House Downstairs? Wait, I’ve got it: No One Pees on Zac Efron In This One. At least we can be sure no one will have a claim on that one at the Title Registration Bureau.