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Tuesday, June 11, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Justices Pick Up ‘Raging Bull’ Copyright Case

WASHINGTON (CN) - Copyright claims over the classic film "Raging Bull" will face one final round in the Supreme Court after the justices agreed to review a 9th Circuit decision.

Frank Petrella, using the the pseudonym Peter Savage, co-authored the 1970 book "Raging Bull: My Story" with boxer Jake LaMotta. The pair also collaborated on two screenplays based on the book. Petrella died in 1981, a year after Martin Scorsese adapted the material into a now acclaimed and beloved film.

In 1991, the writer's daughter, Paula Petrella, moved to renew the rights to one of the two screenplays for herself. Another seven years went by before her attorney contacted Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to assert her rights.

The parties exchanged letters for two years, and Petrella finally sued the studio and its subsidiaries in 2009, claiming that the copyright had reverted to her after her father's death.

Finding that Petrella could have filed her complaints many years before she did so, U.S. District Judge George Wu in Los Angeles found the claims barred by the doctrine of laches.

A Pasadena-based panel of the 9th Circuit unanimously agreed in August 2012.

Petrella unsuccessfully argued that the she had waited 18 years to file her lawsuit after learning of her potential claims because of a lack of money and a surfeit of family problems. She also contended that the studios had not been prejudiced by the delay because they had continued to make money on the film.

"These explanations are unsupported by evidence other than Petrella's own declaration, and in any event, they are insufficient to demonstrate that the filing delay was reasonable," Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the court. "There is no explanation as to why or how Petrella's brother's disability and her mother's illnesses had any impact on her failure to file this lawsuit from 1990 until 2009, a period during which she was consulting with attorneys, renewing the copyright and sending letters to the defendants threatening a lawsuit."

In granting Petrella a write of certiorari Tuesday, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment, as is its custom.

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