Warner Brothers (NYSE:TWX) and the Weinstein Company‘s public showdown regarding who owns the naming rights for the upcoming film The Butler has risen to new heights after a letter from Warner Brothers’ lawyer was published in the Hollywood Reporter recently. Warner Brothers claims it owns the name and has won backing from the Motion Picture Association of America’s Title Registration Bureau. In response, the Weinstein Company, founded by brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, escalated the row further by hiring renowned lawyer, David Boies, to continue to fight its case.
The Weinstein Company’s film, The Butler, is based off a 1919 silent comedy short film with the same title and is about the real-life White House butler Eugene Allen, who served presidents between 1952 and 1986. Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey star in the film, which is tipped for success during the upcoming award season. In a letter published by the Hollywood Reporter, Warner Brothers’ lawyer John Spiegel said the Weinstein Company was a serial rule-breaker that only took note of long-standing rules over film titles when they suited its purposes and ignored them when it did not. He also accused the Weinsteins of hyping up the spat to boost publicity for The Butler.
“The fact that the Weinstein Company is now using a campaign of misinformation about those rules and procedures to gin up publicity for the film is not lost on anyone,” Spiegel’s letter said. ”These are the rules and procedures – among many others – which have been in place for decades, with which the Weinstein Company is intimately familiar, and which the Weinstein Company has invoked many times for its own benefit. And yet, as it has also done several times in the past, the Weinstein Company has chosen to proceed in reckless disregard of the rules, apparently relying on a self-spun “Weinstein exception” to the rules whenever and wherever those rules do not solely favour it,” Spiegel’s letter added.
Spiegel’s letter highlights the films Scream, II Postino and Control as examples of movies where the Weinstein Company defied the Title Registration Bureau’s rulings and was hit with sanctions and injunctions as a result. He also suggested the Weinstein Company may have avoided issues over the film’s title if it had brought up the matter with Warner Brothers and the Title Registration Bureau sooner.
“The Weinstein Company began promoting its film in September 2012, two months before it even attempted to register the title with the bureau,” Spiegel’s letter said. “The Weinstein Company attempted unsuccessfully to register the title in November 2012, and continued to use the title without authorisation for eight months after its registration was denied … Had the Weinstein Company timely sought to register the title and timely sought a waiver from Warner, there would have been ample opportunity for it to register a clearly similar title if Warner denied the waiver.”
The Weinstein Company’s lawyer Boies responded to Spiegel’s letter by threatening further legal action and accused both Warner and the Motion Picture Association of America of being at odds with established custom, practice, and procedure. ”None of this controversy would have occurred if Warner Brothers 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 the Weinstein Company,” Boies’ letter said.
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