Civil rights film ‘The Butler’ adds more off-screen drama
Even more drama unfolded today as the attorney representing the Weinstein Company’s published an open-letter stating that Warner Bros. is attempting to, “hold a major civil rights film hostage to extort unrelated concessions.”
‘The Butler’ has been inundated with press, almost none it about the actual film, and all of it stemming from the title. The latest incident involves The Weinstein Company’s litigator David Boies, who wrote to Warner Bros. threatening a restraining order, and to push for an antitrust violation claim against the studio.
For those of you just catching up, the entire situation is the result of a Warner Bros. film from 1916 which shares the same name as ‘The Butler’. Warner Bros. wants the new film to have a different name, but the director has been very adamant about keeping it. That has led to the court proceedings and letters below.
In arbitration, the MPAA’s Title Registry Bureau officially ruled last Tuesday that TWC couldn’t use the title, The Butler. The film, a White House drama directed by Lee Daniels, is set to launch on August 16, 2013. The project stars Forest Whitaker, Robin Williams, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack and Liev Schreiber. In a previous open letter from Boise he stated that if the title was changed it, “would most certainly hurt the film by limiting the number of people who would ultimately see this important story.” THR first posted the open-letter, which you can read below.
The official letter:
Dear Mr. Spiegel:
Although you do not directly respond to my inquiry, I assume that you are the counsel who should be notified in the event it is necessary to seek a TRO.
I will not try to respond to your version of the facts in part because it is so inaccurate and incomplete that such an exercise would be extensive, and in part because your letter appears to be a press release masquerading as a lawyer’s letter. However, I briefly note your lack of response to three critical points.
First, if an anticompetitive “permanent” allocation of titles (and words used in titles) among competitors is a product of a horizontal agreement, that is an antitrust violation, not a defense.
Second, the purported order that TWC not use titles that it has already cleared pursuant to the MPAA’s own rules and procedures demonstrates that it is Warner Bros. and the MPAA that are at odds with established custom, practice, and procedure.
Third, none of this controversy would have occurred if Warner Bros. had not repudiated its representations and agreements not to object to “The Butler” in a transparent attempt to hold a major civil rights film hostage to extort unrelated concessions from TWC.