(Adds reaction from movie studio MGM and lawyer for
By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON May 19 The U.S. Supreme Court on
Monday gave the daughter of a deceased screenwriter a second
chance to fight movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc over her
claim it infringed the copyright of an early screenplay for what
became the iconic boxing movie "Raging Bull."
The court held on a 6-3 vote that Paula Petrella, daughter
of Frank Petrella, could pursue another round of litigation
against MGM over the copyright of a 1963 screenplay upon which
she says the movie was based.
The high court reversed the San Francisco-based 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals, which had ruled in favor of MGM.
Copyright law experts say the ruling could help plaintiffs
in similar cases who hold copyrights for decades of old movies,
songs and TV shows.
"The defendants have a lot of advantages" in such cases,
including high-powered attorneys, said Stephanos Bibas,
Petrella's lawyer. "This does a little bit to level the playing
The 1980 movie, starring Robert DeNiro and directed by
Martin Scorsese, told the story of champion boxer Jake LaMotta,
nicknamed Raging Bull. The movie won two Academy Awards in 1981,
including the best actor award for DeNiro.
The legal question was whether MGM can argue in its defense
that Petrella, who sued in 2009, waited too long to assert her
claim. Monday's ruling falls short of a knockout as the court
was only considering a preliminary issue. The case is now set to
go to trial unless the parties settle, Bibas said.
MGM's lawyer, Mark Perry, said in a statement that the
company continue contesting the case when it returns to the
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote on behalf of the court
that the Copyright Act's bar on lawsuits more than three years
after a claim arises did not bar the lawsuit because Petrella
said there was an ongoing infringement. Petrella was only
claiming damages for the three years preceding the filing of her
Ginsburg played down the impact on MGM, noting that the
Petrella lawsuit "will put at risk only a fraction of the income
MGM has earned."
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion, in which
he was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony
The Motion Picture Association of America and other industry
groups backed MGM, saying a ruling for Petrella could discourage
studios, publishers and distributors from reissuing old movies
because unexpected copyright claims years after an original
release could lead to years of litigation.
Groups representing authors, including Authors Guild Inc,
filed court papers in support of Petrella. Her lawyer said she
lives in Los Angeles and works in the entertainment industry.
Petrella, who inherited rights to the screenplay after her
father died in 1981, sued when MGM was marketing the movie on
DVD, including a new Blu-ray edition. MGM says it spent almost
$8.5 million on the re-release.
The case is Petrella v. MGM, U.S. Supreme Court, No.
(Additional reporting by Eric Kelsey in Los Angeles; Editing by
Howard Goller and Grant McCool)