'Raging Bull' Lawsuit Rumbles On As Petrella Looks For Knockout Hit

On Tuesday, the fight between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the daughter of one of the Raging Bull screenwriters, Frank Petrella, took centre stage at the Supreme Court.

Robert De NiroRobert De Niro Starred In 'Raging Bull'

Paula Petrella, who now owns her deceased father's copyright share, claims the studio owes her damages for the distribution of the movie, starring Robet De Niro.  However at the centre of the argument is why it took Petrella so long to file her copyright claim, with some feeling she was waiting until the film's 25th anniversary in order to make more money. MGM has already won an appeals court case in California on these grounds.

According to Varierty, Tuesday's hearing was to decide whether the "doctrine of laches", which says you can't file a lawsuit after an unreasonable delay, applies in this case.  Patrella's father died in 1981 and MGM claims she became aware of the rights in 1991 but still waited for no good reason to file a claim. Her lawyers claim the delay was caused by fear of retaliation, lack of money to file the suit and being told by the studio that Raging Bull was no longer profitable.

Robert De NiroRobert De Niro Played Jake LaMotta In The Movie

Patrella filed the lawsuit in 2009 and is seeking damages from three years afterwards and an injunction on further distribution of the work without compensation.  MGM is arguing that the lawsuit could have massive repercussions for studios and their extensive back catalogues. The Copyright Act currently has a three year statute of limitations and films being released on new platforms keep having their copyright and statue of limitations reset. However the doctrine of lashes has kept other copyright claims from being made.  

If Patrella's lawsuit is successful it could encourage similar lawsuits against movie studios over copyright claims. The case has already been dismissed in two lower courts but its inclusion in the Supreme Court means it must have some merit.   Raging Bull is one of the most celebrated movies of all time, earning two academy awards including a Best Actor Oscar for Robert De Niro. De Niro played boxer, Jake LaMotta, the former middleweight champion - it was based on the autobiography he wrote with Frank Petrella. 


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