“Raging Bull” is a classic 1980 motion picture directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro as boxer Jake LaMotta. In the case of Petrella v. Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that MGM can be sued for copyright infringement more than three decades after releasing the movie. The case was filed by Paula Petrella, the daughter of Frank Petrella, who co-wrote and sold his rights to the screenplay used to make the movie. Mr. Petrella died in 1981, and his rights transferred to his daughter, who claims that MGM needed her permission to continue to exploit the screenplay.
Although Ms. Petrella initially contacted MGM in the 1990s, she did not bring suit until 2009. The district court granted summary judgment for MGM, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on the grounds that Ms. Petrella’s claims are barred by the equitable doctrine of laches, which bars a plaintiff’s recovery due to an undue delay in seeking relief. However, like all copyright infringement claims, Ms. Petrella’s claim is subject to a three-year statute of limitations. Therefore, Ms. Petrella was seeking damages only for the three years prior to the date she filed suit, attempting to benefit from DVD sales associated with a 25th anniversary edition.
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