MPAA settles ’The Butler’ dispute with compromise

Updated at: 07/22/2013 1:35 PM
By JAKE COYLE

(AP) NEW YORK - The Motion Picture Association of America has settled the roiling dispute between Harvey Weinstein and Warner Bros. over the use of the title "The Butler."

In a ruling Friday night, the MPAA’s Title Registration Bureau said the Weinstein Co. couldn’t go forward with the title for its upcoming Lee Daniels’ White House drama. In the MPAA’s title registry, Warner Bros. reserves the rights to the title due to a so-named 1916 short.

But the Weinstein Co. will be allowed to use the title "Lee Daniels’ The Butler," which the company said it would switch to immediately. The MPAA stipulated that the letters in "Lee Daniels" must be at least 75 percent the size of "The Butler."

Weinstein took his case public in recent weeks, leading to one of the more visible Hollywood clashes in recent years, if over a relatively minor squabble.

Weinstein had argued that Warner Bros. was attempting to use the dispute to extort from him his percentage of "The Hobbit," the three-part franchise Warner Bros. is releasing. (Title conflicts are often settled with a little horse trading.)

Warner Bros. denied Weinstein’s assertion and claimed that Weinstein continually flouted the protocol of the title registry.

Friday’s decision settled an appeal from the Weinstein Co. after an arbitration ruling earlier in the month.

For violating the MPAA’s earlier ruling, the Weinstein Co. was ordered to pay $400,000 to the Entertainment Industry Foundation and $150,000 to Warner Bros. in legal fees. Increased fines will be added if the Weinstein Co. doesn’t halt all trailers and advertisements using "The Butler" by Friday.

Though titles can’t be copyrighted, a certain number of Hollywood titles are protected by the Title Registration Bureau. The Weinstein Co. and Warner Bros. voluntarily subscribe to the registry, agreeing to be bound by its rules to prevent public confusion over similarly titled films.

In a statement Monday, Weinstein said he was "thrilled this has all come to an end."

The film stars Forest Whitaker as a White House butler whose service spanned decades of U.S. presidents. It is to be released Aug. 16.

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)