LOS ANGELES (CN) – The daughter of Frank Petrella, author of the “Raging Bull” screenplay and childhood friend to Jake LaMotta, filed suit Tuesday against Metro Goldwyn Mayer and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, saying rights to the Oscar-winning movie reverted to her after her father’s death in 1981.
Frank Petrella wrote “Raging Bull, Jake LaMotta; or, the Ice Pick and the Glove,” a screenplay about real life champion boxer Jake Motta, in 1963, according to the complaint.
In 1970, Petrella, who grew up with LaMotta in the Bronx, wrote a book with LaMotta and Joseph Carter called “Raging Bull: My Story.”
Petrella wrote a final screenplay in 1973, which was the basis for the 1980 movie starring Robert DeNiro and directed by Martin Scorsese. Petrella says he trained DeNiro as a boxer for the role, and ended up with credit as one of the movie’s producers. DeNiro ended up with an Oscar for best actor. The movie also snagged the Oscar for best editing and six other Oscar nominations.
Petrella sold his rights to the two screenplays and the book to Chartoff-Winkler Productions in 1976. Chartoff-Winkler sold its “Raging Bull” rights to United Artists, which released the movie.
Paula Petrella says her father died 1981, during the original term of the copyright agreement, so the rights to the screenplays and the book should have reverted to her mother, Eleanor Petrella, her brother, Peter Petrella, and herself. Eleanor Petrella died in 2005, leaving her estate to Paula and Peter, according to the suit. Peter later signed his “Raging Bull” rights over to Paula.
Paula Petrella says she is the holder of the right to the screenplay because of the 1990 Supreme Court decision Stewart v. Abend, which found that when an author sells his copyrights and dies before the first renewal period, the rights revert to his heirs.
MGM and Fox have continually reissued the movie, and allegedly plan to issue a Blu-Ray version in 2009.
Petrella wants the defendants to transfer ownership of the movie to her, along with more than $1 in damages. She is represented by Glen Kulik in Federal Court.