U.S. justices referee 'Raging Bull' copyright fight

Tue Jan 21, 2014 2:47pm EST
 
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By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court justices sparred on Tuesday over how to resolve a copyright dispute concerning an early screenplay for what became the iconic boxing movie "Raging Bull."

Lawyers on both sides failed to deliver a knockout blow during the hour-long oral argument concerning the critically acclaimed movie about the life of champion boxer Jake LaMotta, nicknamed Raging Bull.

The court is hearing a claim brought by Paula Petrella, daughter of deceased screenwriter Frank Petrella. She says MGM Holdings Inc and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment owe her money for infringing the copyright of a 1963 screenplay upon which she alleges the movie was based. Fox, a subsidiary of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc is a defendant because it has the rights to distribute MGM movies on DVD.

The 1980 movie, starring Robert DeNiro and directed by Martin Scorsese, won two Academy Awards in 1981, including the best actor award for DeNiro.

The legal question is whether MGM can argue in its defense that Petrella, who sued in 2009, waited too long to assert her claim.

The Motion Picture Association of America and other industry groups say 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, have filed court papers in support of Petrella.

During the dense legal argument, few of the nine justices indicated how they would vote, although several indicated some sympathy for MGM's position.   Continued...

 
Jake LaMotta arrives for the 25th anniversary screening of the film Raging Bull in New York in this January 27, 2005 file photo. Reuters\Chip East