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What’s Behind Absurd WB-Weinstein Skirmish Over ‘The Butler’?

Warner offered "a trade," according to my insider. Weinstein declined

We all know Hollywood is full of personalities. We're used to fits of pique. Egos getting in the way. And just plain mulishness.

But even so, it's hard to fathom just why Warner Bros. is digging in its heels over keeping the title to a 1916 short called "The Butler," a title that The Weinstein Company used for a civil rights era movie, based on a true story about an African-American butler in the White House.

"The film is not even in circulation. It's not on Netflix. It's not on DVD. It's not even at the Smithsonian," said one wag involved in the dispute.

Also read: Weinstein Lawyer David Boies Seeks a Temporary Restraining Order Against 'Butler' Fine

Weinstein was supposed to get the title cleared with Warner Bros., and never did so. One insider called this a "brazen flaunting of the rules."  (Harvey Weinstein flaunting the rules? I'll alert the media.)

That's not the whole story: according to an executive knowledgeable about the dispute, The Weinstein Company was in negotiations with former studio chief Jeff Robinov over another project to which Weinstein has the rights, and that Warner Bros. wants.

Warner asked for a trade: they'd give up "The Butler" title if Weinstein gave WB rights to the other project. Weinstein declined.

Also read: 10 New Titles for 'The Butler' With Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey

A few days later Warner asked for arbitration from the Motion Picture Association on "The Butler." Which Weinstein lost.

(I'm told it is not the challenge TWC recently raised to Warner’s "The Good Lie," which is close to the TWC's "The Good Life." TWC gave Warner clearance on that one.)

Another executive close to the dispute says that's not the case. Instead, this person says, Warner is insisting on holding the title because very simply it "likes the title," and the studio may want to use it in the future.

See photos: 10 Movies With Matching Titles Before the 'Butler' Battle

So now the whole thing has escalated. Harvey Weinstein has spun up a legal team led by David Boies – yeah, the guy who argued the 2000 election before the Supreme Court and won the day for same-sex marriage last week – who is shooting out letters about temporary restraining orders and the like.

Even in a business susceptible to egos, this seems like one that should have been resolved quietly, behind closed doors, by grown-ups.

The movie is out on August 16. Weinstein, I'm told, is not backing down.

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