[A2k] Raging Bull' Fight to Hit Supreme Court by Eriq Gardner

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Wed Jan 15 06:38:53 PST 2014

Are author's rights advocates making a come back?

Raging Bull' Fight to Hit Supreme Court by Eriq Gardner

Supreme Court Will Hear 'Raging Bull' Dispute

Paula Petrella's father wrote a screenplay and book that became part of the
basis for the Martin Scorsese film. She believes rights to Raging Bull‘s
underlying material have reverted to her father’s heirs and that MGM and
Fox owe her millions of dollars for committing copyright infringement with
continued distribution of the film.

Petrella was young when Scorsese picked up the project. She filmed her
father, Peter Savage, and LaMotta teaching De Niro how to box. When the
film came out,  she says her father squirmed. “I sat next to him at the NYC
premiere, and he was surprised and upset at all the curse words in the
film,” says Petrella. “I think it embarrassed him in front of his teenage

Her dad died in 1981, and about a decade later, Petrella read in The
Hollywood Reporter about a Supreme Court ruling involving Alfred
Hitchcock's Rear Window. The issues were similar: Because her dad died
before the end of the original copyright term, Petrella thought she too
might own renewal rights and derivatives of her father's work. Petrella,
who attended NYU film school (where Scorsese also graduated), spent 18
years shuffling through attorneys before suing MGM and Fox in 2009.

By that time, MGM claimed her suit had come too late. Lower courts have
agreed that her claims were barred by the defense of laches, which
penalizes plaintiffs for an unreasonable delay in pursuing a right or
claim. Now Petrella wants the high court to intervene. Appellate circuits
around the nation haven't been uniform in the application of laches, and
Petrella's attorney Stephanos Bibas believes that courts should instead
lean upon the statute of limitations protocol in the Copyright Act.

If she wins, MGM and Fox could lose rights to the film. (The case would
then go back to a trial court and Petrella would need to demonstrate that
Scorsese's film was substantially similar to her father's work. MGM has
denied this.)
But there are larger issues at play.

In an amicus brief in support of MGM, the MPAA points out why studios would
want plaintiffs to sue right away instead of waiting. According to the
trade association, "Studios invest significant financial and creative
resources in preserving, re-mastering, and converting movies to new formats
to keep up with advances in technology and in distributing movies through
evolving channels such as cable television and third party vendors like
Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon -- all in reliance on the original licenses and
assignments and on the passage of years or decades with-out copyright suit."

The California Society of Entertainment Lawyers is backing Petrella in an
effort to strengthen authors' rights. They say that the 9th Circuit --
Hollywood's backyard -- has been "hostile" to copyright plaintiffs. Others
backing Petrella point out that as the copyright term has gotten lengthier,
the only way to preserve authors' rights on the back end against studios is
to allow them wide passage to lawsuits.
The dispute has grown so intriguing that last Friday, the Obama
administration (via the U.S. Solicitor General) was granted permission to
participate in oral arguments.

Petrella won’t say what her plans are for Raging Bull should she prevail,
but the woman who once authored a book on marathon preparation will be in
attendance at the Supreme Court after exploring her rights for more than
two decades. "At first, my case was grounded in preserving my father's
legacy," says Petrella. "Now it has grown to encompass a much broader
issue. I don't feel I'm fighting for just my own family anymore."
Email: Eriq.Gardner at THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

Manon Ress, Ph.D.
Knowledge Ecology International, KEI
manon.ress at keionline.org, tel.: +1 202 332 2670

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