If a boxer fails to answer the bell and to come out slugging, the results are obvious: Bout’s over, no discussion. That’s the fight game. But the U.S. Supreme Court has put new legs under a long-running, legal slug fest, agreeing to hear an appeal regarding the Academy-Award winning movie “Raging Bull.”
Plaintiff Paula Petrella claims Frank Petrella — her late father, a screenwriter a biographer of middleweight champion Jake LaMotta — penned a 1963 script on which the critically acclaimed 1980 movie was based. She sued MGM Holdings Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment in 2009 for copyright infringement, saying she had renewed protections on her father’s screenplay in 1991, after the work’s 28-year term had expired. But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of MGM, holding that Petrella had waited too long to sue.
While the issue the Supreme Court will review revolves around timeliness and copyright litigation, especially distinctive deadlines in the West’s appellate court, this case has acquired a drama worthy of Robert DeNiro with assertions of bias in the Ninth. Stephanos Bibas, Petrella’s counsel, noted that this appellate court has a reputation for hostility to copyright owners and favoring Hollywood and the studios, with the circuit’s chief, Alex Kozinski once dubbing it “the court of appeals for the Hollywood circuit;”
Bibas asserts the court has adopted a statute of limitations for copyright than runs contrary to actual law. He also argues that Congress, not the courts, were “responsible for weighing competing interests and policy considerations and setting a limitations period.”
MGM responded by saying that the plaintiff’s long delay in renewing the copyright “was egregious and…unjustified.”
The chain of facts as to the delays in Petrella’s filing her suit, by the way, are long and convoluted, including: her father’s transfer of his rights to a third-party, which sold them to an MGM subsidary; her inheritance or renewal rights; and her contacts with the studios in the 1990s, leading up to her litigation only after the movie had showed it could pull in profits.
And if you’ve forgotten what made this movie so memorable, here’s a brain slap before the weekend: