The studios are fighting over naming rights to "The Butler," a dispute the Weinstein Company pushed to national TV
Harvey Weinstein accused Warner Bros. of using “bullying tactics” as he took to morning TV on Tuesday to stoke the flames of the ongoing controversy over naming rights to “The Butler.”
The Weinstein Co.'s co-chairman appeared with attorney David Boies to argue that Warners was trying to prevent the release of Lee Daniels' upcoming film about an African-American butler who worked in the White House for several presidents.
“My dad taught me to fight injustice. This is unjust,” he told hosts of "CBS This Morning." “I was asked by two execs at Warner Bros., which I'm happy testify to, that if I gave them back the rights to 'The Hobbit' they would drop the claim. For a 1916 short? This was used as a bullying tactic.”
TWC nets a small percentage of the profits from “The Hobbit,” films thanks to a preexisting rights deal. The first film in Warner's and New Line’s planned trilogy grossed more than $1 billion at the box office.
Warner Bros. aggressively rejected Weinstein’s claims. A spokesman for the studio said there was “no correlation” between “The Hobbit” and the dispute over “The Butler” and accused Weinstein of manufacturing a controversy in the following statement:
“The Weinstein Company, as the New York Times has noted, is following an oft-trodden path of creating 'well-publicized controversies' in order to promote their films by disseminating deliberate misinformation about the true nature of this dispute. The Weinsteins are sophisticated experts in this arena and three neutral arbitrators have penalized them for blatantly disregarding MPAA rules. It goes without saying that Warner Bros. has no issue with Lee Daniels’ film (never has) and fully supports the artistic goals of the filmmakers. The Weinsteins’ suggestions to the contrary are deeply offensive and untrue. “
The Motion Picture Association of America blocked the Weinstein Co. from using the title "The Butler" after Warner's filed a complaint to delay the release of the film, set for Aug. 16. The studio says the film uses the same title as a silent short it owns.
TWC must pay $25,000 a day if it persists in using the title in any of its marketing materials, according to the ruling.
Harvey Weinstein claimed Warner's is being vituperative, as his company has to spend a great deal of money to alter its promotional campaigns to avoid the fine.
"We have to pull 5,000 trailers from the theaters, we have to pull our website down, all of which we complied with," he said on "This Morning." "And the movie's coming out Aug.16. And 28 individual investors did it. What the hell do they need the title for?"
Yet according to another indivudal with knowledge of the dispute, TWC had almost nine months to change the title and registered other titles Warner's would have accepted. Instead, Weinstein proceeded ahead.
Attorney John W. Spiegel sent a letter to Boies July 4 accusing TWC of “reckless disregard” for the rules, and claimed the Weinsteins were seeking a special exception to rules they have long followed and use to their advantage.
First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams pressed that point again on Tuesday's morning show, and MPAA Chairman Christopher Dodd, the chairman of the MPAA, concluded the dispute by imploring all the parties to negotiate instead of argue.
“There's still an appeals process. Sit down, talk to each other, you've got great lawyers right here,” Dodd said. “They're from different companies, they know each other well. Sit down and work it out. This is silly.”
Here's a video of the segment: