The Weinstein Company Loses The Butler Battle

The Butler 5

There’s nothing that I love more than a good cinematic and totally arbitrary legal battle. I’ve really been getting my fill with the current rumble over the title to The Weinstein Company’s The Butler; or, rather, The Butler that never was. The Weinsteins have lost their legal tiff with Warner Brothers over the title.

In case you missed it, here’s what has been going between the Weinsteins and Warner Brothers. Earlier in July, it turned out that Warner Brothers was having a bit of a hissy fit over The Weinstein Company using the title The Butler for their upcoming film. It appears that Warner Brothers laid claim to the title via a 1916 film they have down in their vaults; a film that has never been on video, and that everyone had forgotten about until Warner Brothers decided to bring it up. Harvey Weinstein responded with a hissy fit of his own, giving interviews in which he claimed that Warner Brothers is upset that he won’t give up his percentage stake in The Hobbit franchise.

The whole thing has come to a conclusion, more or less, in favor of Warner Brothers. The Weinsteins are going to have to pay all the Warner Brothers legal fees, shell out $100,000 to the Entertainment Industry Foundation, and then pay $25,000 for every day from July 2 onwards, for violating the title rules. The title of The Butler will change to Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and all digital promotions material is going to have to change by July 26 to avoid incurring further fines. Yikes.

It seems like an awful lot to pay for using a title that’s not exactly unique, for a film that has nothing to do with the 1916 Warner Brothers film. But that’s the way the celluloid decays, and the Weinsteins can afford it. They got a lot of publicity for The Butler – I’m sorry, Lee Daniels’ The Butler – which stars Forrest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served eight presidents from 1952-1986. I admit that I hadn’t heard of it until this legal battle got going.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler comes to theatres August 16.