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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Settlement Talks Ongoing in ‘Raging Bull’ Copyright Case

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Talks to settle a copyright dispute over the movie classic "Raging Bull" continued Wednesday, after MGM this week urged the court to throw out the case.

A Courthouse News reporter was in the courtroom at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Courthouse for the morning settlement conference. A court clerk, however, ordered the reporter to leave because of the confidential nature of the proceedings.

MGM attorney Jonathan Zavin, an intellectual property lawyer with Loeb & Loeb, declined to comment outside the courtroom on the settlement discussions.

The talks could end a protracted legal battle that started in 2009, when Paula Petrella claimed an ownership interest in Martin Scorsese's black-and-white classic. She filed a $1 million copyright suit against MGM and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment for a cut of royalties.

A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that Petrella had waited too long to make her claims after first asserting an interest in "Raging Bull" in the late nineties. The 9th Circuit affirmed in the summer of 2012.

During those proceedings , MGM said it had spent $8.5 million on the release of VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray editions of the movie, and that the studio was prejudiced by Petrella's 18-year delay in filing suit.

But the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit in a 6-3 decision last year, kicking the case back to the federal court.

"MGM released 'Raging Bull' more than three decades ago and has marketed it continuously since then," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote . "Allowing Petrella's suit to go forward will put at risk only a fraction of the income MGM has earned during that period and will work no unjust hardship on innocent third parties, such as consumers who have purchased copies of 'Raging Bull.'"

Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader are the credited screenwriters on "Raging Bull." But prior to production, Scorsese and "Raging Bull" lead Robert DeNiro retreated to the La Samanna resort on St. Martin Island in the Caribbean to work on several uncredited rewrites.

There was another writer involved in the creation of the film, which charts the rise and fall of real life middleweight champion Jake LaMotta, who is now 93.

When production company Chartoff-Winkler Productions acquired La Motta's book "Raging Bull: My Story," in 1976, rights to the book were bundled with two screenplays by La Motta's co-author and Petrella's father, Peter Savage.

It was Savage, also known as Frank Petrella, who introduced the book to DeNiro, according to a Vanity Fair article on the making of the film.

Savage was depicted as a character in earlier drafts of the screenplay before Scorsese and DeNiro made the decision to turn LaMotta's brother Joey and Savage into a composite character, cutting Savage from the script entirely.

MGM subsidiary United Artists released "Raging Bull" in 1980, after registering the copyright to the film two months before its November release.

Savage died a little over a year after the movie's release. Renewal rights to his three "Raging Bull" works were handed down to his wife and children.

His daughter Pamela Petrella eventually asserted sole ownership of her father's joint interest with La Motta in the book and two screenplays, according to court records.

On March 16, MGM filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there is "no protectable expression from the 1963 screenplay that was incorporated into the film." LaMotta and Savage had both represented that the screenplay was based on LaMotta's 1970 book, not the other way around, MGM says.

Since MGM owns the rights to the book, the studio argues, it owns rights to the film.

"To avoid dismissal, plaintiff now argues - 40 years after both actual authors unmistakably said otherwise - that her father and LaMotta were 'wrong' and that her father's 1963 screenplay is the original work of authorship on which LaMotta's book was based," MGM says in the court filing supporting the motion. "Plaintiff is estopped as a matter of law, however, from basing her copyright claim on this kind of revisionist history."

Both Scorsese and DeNiro picked up Academy Award nominations for the 1980 film. DeNiro's portrayal of LaMotta earned him the best actor award.

But Robert Redford beat Scorsese to win best director for "Ordinary People."

Glen Kulik of Sherman Oaks firm Kulik Gottesman & Mouton represents Petrella.

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