UPDATE, 10:12 AM: MGM has responded to the ruling: “While we agreed with the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion that laches is an available defense against stale copyright claims, the Supreme Court has spoken,” MGM lawyer Mark Perry of DC-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher told me today. “The decision, however, does not end this matter as we continue to believe that the plaintiff’s case is legally and factually unsupportable. We look forward to vindicating our rights in the film Raging Bull in the lower courts.” What this politely means: this is going to be a no-holds-barred grudge match.
PREVIOUS, 7:44 AM: It’s not a total TKO, but the Supreme Court today gave the green light to Paula Petrella to take her Raging Bull copyright lawsuit against MGM back into the ring. In an opinion from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the SCOTUS said in a 6-3 vote that Petrella, daughter of deceased screenwriter Frank Petrella, could pursue a lawsuit against MGM for infringing the copyright of a 1963 screenplay upon which she says the movie was based. The younger Petrella first launched her $1 million suit in 2009 after the release of the latest DVD of the 1980 Martin Scorsese film on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta. MGM claimed that the doctrine of laches barred any such legal action. Separate from the statue of limitations, the doctrine is meant to prevent lawsuits being filed after long delays.
Frank Petrella penned a 1963 screenplay and a book that inspired the Scorsese film and was given an acting credit under the name Peter Savage. When he died in 1981, the copyrights reverted to his daughter. She “was aware of her potential claim (as was MGM) since 1991, when her attorney filed renewal applications for the 1963 screenplay,” the lower courts said. But for a variety of reasons it took her another 18 years to sue Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. for copyright infringement for creating and distributing copies of the movie that earned Robert De Niro a Best Actor Oscar. But the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled back in August 2012 that she waited too long to file the suit. Paula Petrella petitioned the SCOTUS over the case and in August of last year and they agreed to hear it.