In the midst of an increasingly catty and last-minute Hollywood legal fight between The Weinstein Company and Warner Bros. over the use of the movie title The Butler, Deadline has the news that Weinstein has hired attorney David Boies, fresh off his Proposition 8 case at the Supreme Court, to do battle for them.
Boies has been brought in, Mike Fleming Jr. reports, following Tuesday's ruling by the MPAA's Title Registration Bureau that granted Warner Bros. the name rights to The Butler. Though The Weinstein Company has a buzzy (potentially Oscar buzzy) film debuting in just a month by that title starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, Warner Bros. laid claim to the movie title because of a 1916 silent short comedy that likely no one remembers. The ruling, essentially, meant that "TWC had until midnight tonight to remove the word 'Butler' from all their marketing, promotion and other material related to the Lee Daniel's directed film." That's a lot to ask for a film that's about to open, and with Boies now on hand, it's clear that the Weinstein bunch is not going down without a fight—Harvey Weinstein never lets a contender go down without barking all the way to the top.
Boies, who also represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore and has stepped in high-profile sports and movie cases before, said in a statement: "The suggestion that there is a danger of confusion between TWC’s 2013 feature movie and a 1917 short that has not been shown in theaters, television, DVDs, or in any other way for almost a century makes no sense. The award has no purpose except to restrict competition and is contrary to public policy."
If you're wondering how on Earth Warner Bros. could have gotten away with this so close to The Butler's August 16 opening—new pictures were posted just yesterday—look to Tim Appelo over at The Hollywood Reporter, who explains how, exactly, this MPAA Title Registration Bureau works. Though movie titles cannot be copyrighted, Appelo writes, the Title Registration bureau is a registration system which companies can opt into which aims to "prevent public confusion over films with similar titles" that are distributed in the United States. Warner Bros. did not make the case that they wanted to use the title, but instead "chose to stand on precedent, arguing that The Weinstein Co., which is a signatory to the TRB though not a member of the MPAA, hadn't followed the established rules." Usually, these matters are settled with a little behind-the-scenes deal-making. But Deadline's Fleming points to another element of the feud: TWC recently took issue with a Warner Bros. film title, The Good Lie, for being close to The Good Life. Now that's picky.
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- David Boies