UPDATED, 8:07PM… Both sides are claiming victory — of course — in the battle over The Butler. As Deadline first reported Thursday and then updated this morning, the MPAA said tonight that its original ruling in the case went too far, and it has overturned the part that excluded the Weinstein Company from using the word “butler” in the title of its historical drama. The MPAA Appeals Board’s decision — read it here and decide for yourself — says TWC can use the word “butler” in the title, but all words in the title have to be of same size/prominence. If the company indeed decides to title the film Lee Daniels’ The Butler, though, “Lee Daniels” has to be 75% the size of “The Butler.” TWC has to pay $400,000 to the Entertainment Industry Foundation as sanctions for violating the July 2 award and must pay the charity $25,000 per day to for violating today’s award, which increases to $50,000 a day if they don’t issue new digital materials (trailers, TV ads, etc.) for the film by July 26 and new print materials by August. TWC also has to pay Warner Bros’ $150,000 in legal fees. Some background, for those who might have been on safari the past few weeks, after the jump:The Lee Daniels-directed historical drama stars Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo and a stellar cast playing small roles as the occupants of the White House during one man’s tenure as butler for eight presidents. Warner Bros had been trying to block Harvey Weinstein from using the title The Butler on the film, claiming it has rights to the title because of a 1916 silent comedy short called The Butler. That one was produced by the Lubin Manufacturing Company and released by General Film Company, and is now in the Warner Bros library. That drew no small amount of outrage from The Weinstein Company, particularly because TWC in the weeks prior had raised a challenge to the Warner Bros film The Good Lie because it is close to the TWC title The Good Life. When Warner Bros lawyers called, TWC demurred and gave Warner Bros the necessary clearance. TWC had been determined to use the title The Butler, which is what the Daniels picture was being called when TWC acquired it in script stage from Sony Pictures. The film is based on Wil Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served By This Election,” which introduced Eugene Allen (the character is named Cecil Gaines in the film) and reported that after observing up close the slow and tumultuous developments in the battle for Civil Rights, he was invited back to the White House for the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African-American president.
In early July, the MPAA awarded Warner Bros the right to the title The Butler and that the Weinstein Company had to find a new name for its film — and had to pay daily $25,000 fines before an appeal could be heard. TWC immediately fought back, having attorney David Boies send letters to both Warner Bros and MPAA lawyers warning of a potential anti-trust suit. Then DAniels fired off his own letter directly to Kevin Tsujihara, urging the Warner Bros Entertainment CEO to screen his film and perhaps lean on his lawyers to ease up and settle the Fourht of July week skirmish. WB attorney John Spiegel then sent a response to Daniels’ letter, calling TWC’s “cries of unfairness and its threats to sue Warner … unproductive and unwarranted”. Sources told Deadline at the time that Daniels also received a personal response from Tsujihara. But things got even nastier: Boies directed a new letter Spiegel, moving to secure a restraining order as the legal maneuvering continued. He said that Warner Bros is holding hostage the civil rights film to “extort unrelated concessions from TWC.”
On July 9, the case hit the CBS Morning News (watch the segment here). Fast-forward to this week’s MPAA appeal hearing and today’s news — and you’re caught up. Just for grins, here’s the trailer for The Weinstein Company Movie Formerly Known As The Butler And To Be Known Going Forward As Something Else: