'The King's Speech' Threatened With Legal Action Over 'No Animals Harmed' Claim (Updated)
The American Humane Association is demanding The Weinstein Company remove the phrase from its credits because it was not given on-set access or copies of the script.
UPDATE: Dispute resolved! See below:
The King's Speech may have a new speech impediment on its path to the Academy Awards.
The American Humane Association has contacted producers of the film and is threatening legal action over the use of phrase, "No animals were harmed," in the end credits.
The public advocacy group has a trademark on this phrase and over the years, has leveraged its rights so as to be involved in film productions and certify that no "animal actors" get harmed or killed in studio films. The organization typically demands advanced copies of scripts and daily call sheets to review and also requires on-set access whenever animals are used.
The AHA says it was never invited to monitor The King's Speech, however, and so it demands that The Weinstein Co., which is distributing the highly-praised film, remove the assurance to movie-goers that no animals were harmed during the production.
"We are in conversation with them and hope to work something out," says Karen Rosa, vice president of the film & television unit at the AHA. Rosa adds that the organization has retained Sharon Gold at TroyGould for potential litigation.
The end-credit animals disclaimer has become so commonplace over the years that most people probably don't realize it's a registered trademark. Last year, the AHA sent out cease-and-desist letters to the producers and distributors of five films, including Oscar-nominated District 9. However, the AHA has never gone to court to enforce its door-opening trademark.
That's potentially a high profile point, though, given that the film is on the cusp of a big speech at the Oscars. A lawsuit by a former Iraqi veteran against The Hurt Locker a few days before last year's ceremony didn't interfere with that film bringing home the prize for Best Picture, but Hollywood has its good share of zealous animal rights advocates who might be swayed by word from the town's animal rights monitor.
Can The King's Speech rectify the situation by just changing the phrasing? Maybe, says Rosa. "It depends on how close the language is," she says. "If there's any implication of an endorsement, it could still cause confusion."
We're awaiting word from The Weinstein Co. and will update if we hear anything.
UPDATE: Producer Emile Sherman of See-Saw Films has given us the following statement:
"During the production of The King's Speech we did in fact have the best animal handlers on set to ensure the safety of the animals employed. As an independent UK production we were unaware that the phrase ‘no animals were harmed’ had a certification mark and any implication that the American Humane Association was involved in our UK production was unintentional. As a director of Voiceless, an animal protection organization, animal welfare is extremely important to me. We have now spoken with the AHA and resolved the issue. The treatment of animals in this film was never an issue. The only issue was inadvertent use by the producers of the AHA's certification mark, which has now been resolved."