Why is Warner Bros. really trying to stop The Weinstein Company from calling its upcoming Lee Daniels film The Butler? Harvey Weinstein has a few radical ideas – and naturally, he isn’t afraid to share them.
Weinstein appeared on CBS This Morning today, along with his lawyer David Boies, former senator and current MPAA head Chris Dodd, and veteran constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams. After complaining that films often share similar titles – “Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy have a movie out called [The] Heat. Jason Statham is shooting a movie called Heat. Bob De Niro and Al Pacino made a movie called Heat, and 10 years before that, Burt Reynolds made a movie called Heat” – the mogul posited that Warner must have “ulterior motives” for wanting The Butler to be renamed.
Weinstein’s rival is claiming protective rights to that title because it also belongs to an archival 1916 short film. Though movie titles can’t be copyrighted or trademarked, The Butler was registered with the MPAA’s voluntary Title Registration Bureau, which exists to avoid title conflicts; TWC apparently never cleared its Butler with the bureau. Warner Bros. won the case in arbitration, meaning that TWC must change the movie’s title unless it can win an appeal.
But according to Weinstein and Boies, there’s something more sinister going on here. On CBS, Boies accused Warner Bros. of trying to restrict competition from his client’s “important civil rights movie.” Weinstein went a step further, calling Warner Bros.’s actions “unjust” and “a bullying tactic.” He also claimed that the rival studio offered to cut him a shady deal: “I was asked by two executives at Warner Bros, which I’m happy to testify, that if I gave them the rights back to ‘The Hobbit’ they would drop the claim.”
Dodd and Abrams, for their part, said that this whole situation is the result of Weinstein and his company not keeping their word: “You sign an agreement in which you say I will abide by the rules,” Dodd pointed out. After noting that TWC has also registered titles with the MPAA’s bureau – including The Artist and The King’s Speech – Abrams dismissed the idea that Warner Bros. is trying to take down its competition. “The idea that this is some sort of effort to suppress a movie is just not true,” he said.
Warner Bros. has also released a statement, excerpted partially on CBS This Morning: “The Weinstein Company, as the New York Times has noted, is following an oft-trodden path of creating ‘well-publicized controversies’ in order to promote their films by disseminating deliberate misinformation about the true nature of this dispute. The Weinsteins are sophisticated experts in this arena and three neutral arbitrators have penalized them for blatantly disregarding MPAA rules. It goes without saying that Warner Bros. has no issue with Lee Daniels’ film (never has) and fully supports the artistic goals of the filmmakers. The Weinsteins’ suggestions to the contrary are deeply offensive and untrue.”