‘Raging Bull’ Screenplay Copyright Lawsuit Heads For Supreme Court

‘Raging Bull’ Screenplay Copyright Lawsuit Heads For Supreme Court

Tags: Robert De Niro - Martin Scorsese

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A copyright tussle over a boxing movie that was made 33 years ago has come to a head in the USA. Paula Petrella, daughter of deceased screenwriter Frank Petrella, has initiated a court case where she alleges that the 1980 Martin Scorsese-directed movie, Raging Bull, unlawfully infringed upon the copyright of her father's screenplay, written in 1963.

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro Played Jake La Motta.

The movie stars Robert De Niro as boxer Jake La Motta, AKA the nicknamed Raging Bull, whose negative traits - being prone to sexual jealousy, obsession and rage - destroy his relationships with his wife and family and he must battle his many inner demons to get back on track.

Despite its high level of violence, the film went on to win two academy awards, including a 'best actor' for De Niro. Now, the movie is back in the news due to Petrella's unexpected court case. She argues that MGM Holdings Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox are guilty of infringing the copyright of a screenplay written much earlier, with subsidiary company Fox as a named defendant, reports Reuters.

Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorse Directed 1980's Raging Bull.

The case will be an important one to watch for those in copyright law as it raises the question pertaining to what circumstances a defendant in a copyright case can win based on the failure of the plaintiff to assert his or her claim at an earlier stage. If Petrella wins the case, it will have interesting ramifications for other cinema court cases at a time where there is a trend within Hollywood to base new films on older ideas.

After Frank Petrella died in 1981, his daughter inherited the rights to the screenplay which she renewed in 1991. She says that MGM used the work unfairly when it marketed the movie on DVD and Blu-ray. By law, copyright owners have three years in which to file a lawsuit after each time an alleged infringer uses his or her work unfairly.

Cathy Moriarty
Cathy Moriarty Played De Niro's Wife In The Movie.

The case has been handed to the Supreme Court after Federal courts were divided over the issue. Paula Petrella "was aware of her potential claim (as was MGM) since 1991, when her attorney filed renewal applications for the 1963 screenplay," the federal courts said, via the NY Daily News. "She did not file her lawsuit until 18 years later, in January 2009."

The supreme court has agreed to hear an appeal over the movie's copyright.


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