Supreme Court Allows Copyright Action, Holds No Laches Defense


May 20, 2014 — Yesterday, in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. (No. 12-1315), the Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine of laches could not be invoked to bar a copyright claim that was brought within the statutorily allowed three-year window from a particular act of infringement — even though the copyright owner had a significant delay (over 18 years) from her inheritance of her father’s copyright in a screenplay first copyrighted in 1963. MGM made the screenplay into the motion picture, “Raging Bull,” based on the boxing career of former world middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta and starring Robert De Niro (who won the Best Actor Academy Award), in 1980.

Author Frank Petrella died during the initial copyright term, and by law, the renewal rights in his copyright reverted to his heirs. His daughter, Paula Petrella, renewed the 1963 copyright in 1991, becom- ing its sole owner. About seven years later, she advised MGM that its continued sale of the movie “Raging Bull” violated her copyright and threatened suit. About nine years later, in 2009, she filed an infringement suit, seeking monetary and injunctive relief limited to acts of infringement occurring in and after 2006.

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