'Raging Bull' copyright fight goes to a second round

Mon May 19, 2014 1:36pm EDT
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By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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 field."

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 lower courts.   Continued...

People line up in the rain outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington April 29, 2014.  REUTERS/Gary Cameron