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Harvey Weinstein Loses Tussle with Warners Over 'The Butler,' Makes Statement UPDATED (VIDEO)

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by Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna
July 22, 2013 3:34 PM
4 Comments
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Harvey Weinstein

In the end, Harvey Weinstein vs. Warner Bros. did not turn out well for The Weinstein Co., which as of Friday has been ordered by the MPAA to pay a $400,000 fine plus $150,000 in legal fees to the studio. According to one angry senior TWC exec, the company had received a go-ahead from the studio's distribution chief Dan Fellman--and done all the necessary legal work to clear the title, but permission was reneged. That's not what Warners says, however. They say that Weinstein needs to fulfill his legal paperwork like anyone else, and deny that the tussle is about "The Hobbit." "We may want to use the title someday," said one spokeswoman in Comic-Con. 

That's valid. But Weinstein Co. says that Warners is trying to get away with paying the 5% of the gross that Harvey Weinstein grabbed long ago on the "Lord of the Rings" films for just the first Peter Jackson "Hobbit" film--not all three. That is what the fight was about and TWC will fight to get paid in full.

The problem for TWC is that "Lee Daniels' The Butler" now has to be inserted into all the film's marketing materials at the last minute at a substantial cost. A new poster was sent out Monday. The film opens August 16. 

Harvey Weinstein issued a statement Monday as follows:

"We are thrilled this has all come to an end and has been resolved.  The MPAA's overturning of their original decision to now allow the use of 'butler' in the title is a victory for Lee Daniels, the film's 28 investors who believed in it, America‚Äôs greatest attorney David Boies, and especially in the memory of my friend and the film's producer Laura Ziskin.  Now we can focus on the importance of Lee Daniels' film, the amazing performances by Forest, Oprah and the incredible cast who spent countless months bringing this story about American history and civil rights to screen."  


EARLIER: Harvey Weinstein made an appearance on CBS This Morning today, saying that Warner Bros. is trying to bully him away from the title "The Butler" for an upcoming Lee Daniels film: "For a 1916 short? This was used as a bullying tactic... This was the big guy trying to hit the small guy." Watch video from the segment below.
Weinstein also claimed that he had been told by two Warner Bros. execs that if he "gave them back the rights to 'The Hobbit,' they would drop the claim." He says he is willing to testify on the point. Weinstein's attorney David Boies and MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd also made appearances on This Morning.


The Weinstein Company is currently appealing a July 2 ruling by the MPAA Title Registration that they would not be allowed to use the title due to the 1916 silent short film in the Warners library sharing the same name.
The Lee Daniels film is scheduled to hit theaters on August 16. In the meantime TWC has had to pull the film's trailers from theaters and take down its website, in order to avoid $25,000 a day in penalties.


EVEN EARLIER: Utterly predictably, Harvey Weinstein is not sitting back and letting Warner Bros. win its legal battle over the title "The Butler." The studio has won the first round of industry arbitration, saying they own the rights to a 1916 short film. So Weinstein, who wants to use the title for his Lee Daniels period drama starring Forrest Whitaker in the true story of a White House butler through eight presidents, has brought in TWC's go-to legal big gun David Boies. He may appeal or take further legal action.


The film's August 16 is looming--it is late in the day and expensive to change a title at this point, with branding and marketing materials well under way. And Weinstein was not going to let such a soft lob PR opportunity go by. 

4 Comments

  • cadavra | July 22, 2013 9:20 PMReply

    This just in: Warners is now telling mystery writers that they will no longer be able to use the line, "The butler did it."

  • H.S. Bayer | July 22, 2013 3:58 PMReply

    The MPAA is not being consistent (again) with their argument here.
    F. Lee Baily would have had a field day with this one.
    The issue is probably more important to indies in general than for TWC.
    Maybe Harvey could challenge Time Warner Cable over twc.com and turn
    the whole thing into a reality show.

  • mp | July 4, 2013 2:46 PMReply

    It isn't about copyright or trademark, it's about the agreements between the MPAA and the studios about releasing similar titles within a two year framework. But what it is REALLY about is WB wants some concession from Harvey about something else.

  • Jazz4111 | July 3, 2013 5:11 PMReply

    As most of us know, a title cannot be copyrighted. (something we learned when releasing "Guncrazy" in 1992.) What can be alleged is "restraint of trade" infringement which caused Miramax to pay a settlement to Sony when they released "Scream" soon after Sony released "Screamers." holding copyright to an early 20th century short, which has demonstrably been completely exploited, doesn't bode well for a restraint of trade argument. Harvey will win this battle.

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