UPDATE, 10:12 AM: MGM has responded to the ruling: ”While we agreed with the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion that laches is an available defense against stale copyright claims, the Supreme Court has spoken,” MGM lawyer Mark Perry of DC-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher told me today. “The decision, however, does not end this matter as we continue to believe that the plaintiff’s case is legally and factually unsupportable. We look forward to vindicating our rights in the film Raging Bull in the lower courts.” What this politely means: this is going to be a no-holds-barred grudge match.
PREVIOUS, 7:44 AM: It’s not a total TKO, but the Supreme Court today gave the green light to Paula Petrella to take her Raging Bull copyright lawsuit against MGM back into the ring. In an opinion from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the SCOTUS said in a 6-3 vote that Petrella, daughter of deceased screenwriter Frank Petrella, could pursue a lawsuit against MGM for infringing the copyright of a 1963 screenplay upon which she says the movie was based. The younger Petrella first launched her $1 million suit in 2009 after the release of the latest DVD of the 1980 Martin Scorsese film on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta. MGM claimed that the doctrine of laches barred any such legal action. Separate from the statue of limitations, the doctrine is meant to prevent lawsuits being filed after long delays. Read More »
The Supreme Court has answered the bell in the fight over early works based on the story of boxer Jake LaMotta – the subject of MGM‘s 1980 Best Picture nominee Raging Bull. The justices today agreed to hear the case brought by Paula Petrella, whose father Frank Petrella penned the two screenplays and a book that inspired the Martin Scorsese film and was given an acting credit under the name Peter Savage. When he died in 1981, the copyrights reverted to his daughter. In 2009, she sued Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. for copyright infringement for creating and distributing copies of the movie that earned Robert De Niro a Best Actor Oscar. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that she waited too long to file the suit. In August, Paula Petrella asked the courts to reinstate the case, saying the Appeals Court dismissal was wrong based on recent copyright cases. Now the high court will determine the fate of the suit after the justices return to the bench October 7. It’s the final round of a grudge match decades in the making — not unlike De Niro’s upcoming film in which he and Sylvester Stallone play aged boxers who face off in the ring 30 years after their last fight.
Related: MGM Settles ‘Raging Bull II’ Lawsuit
Between 1974 when he won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as the young Don Corleone in The Godfather Part II and 1991 when he was contending for Best Actor in Cape Fear, Robert De Niro was nominated six times and won two Oscars (1980′s Raging Bull was the other one) in a span of 17 years. But remarkably it has now been 21 years since that last Academy Award shout-out in ’91, a long Oscar dry spell for the man many consider our greatest living film actor. With the release in November of David O. Russell’s critically acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook, De Niro is genuinely contending for his first Oscar nomination in over two decades as the obsessive compulsive, sports-betting Philadelphia Eagles fan, and father Pat Sr.
Related: OSCARS Q&A: David O. Russell
Already nominated for Critics Choice Movie Awards and SAG Best Supporting Actor honors, De Niro is favored to repeat the feat on January 10th when Oscar nominations are announced, and although he is pleased about the buzz for his performance, he isn’t getting his hopes up as he told me when we spoke over the weekend in a rare interview. “Of course I am happy about it all and the reception, but I don’t want to expect much because I don’t want to be disappointed. I have had a lot of experience over the years and then you expect and you think and it never happens. So all I try to do is be even-keeled about stuff,” he says. Read More »
MGM today prevailed in a protracted dispute over underlying rights to Raging Bull involving the daughter of the writer of an early screenplay based on the life of fighter Jake LaMotta. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the earlier District Court ruling that Paula Petrella, daughter and heir of Frank Petrella (under screen credit Peter Savage) who died in 1981, had waited too long to dispute ownership. Frank Petrella wrote a 1963 screenplay based on LaMotta’s life, some of which the 1980 Martin Scorsese film was based on. The District Court had issued summary judgment against Paula Petrella in favor of MGM and other defendants including 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The lower court also denied MGM and other defendants’ motions for sanctions and attorney fees. The appeals court today affirmed both those decisions in a ruling that you can read here.
Related: MGM Settles ‘Raging Bull II’ Lawsuit With Movie Name Change
Claiming breach of contract and four other counts, MGM put the legal gloves on today with Jake LaMotta and the producers of Raging Bull 2. In a 7-page complaint filed today (read it here) against the 91-year old former boxer and RB II Productions, MGM wants the courts to order production on Raging Bull 2, which is currently filming in LA, stopped. Additionally, the studio wants to make sure the indie movie never sees the light of day. MGM also wants compensatory damages and punitive and exemplary damages and more “awarded in an amount sufficient to punish the RB II defendants and to deter those who would commit or knowingly seek to profit from similar actions, now or in the future.”
MGM alleges LaMotta had no right to allow RB II Productions the rights to his 1986 sequel book without first offering it to them. That comes from a 1976 agreement the boxer and co-author Peter Savage entered into with Chartoff-Winkler Productions. That agreement, which MGM is the successor-in-interest to, not only included his 1970 memoir but extended to any “owner-written sequel,” says the studio. MGM says that RB II has ignored the studio’s attempts to get them and LaMotta to comply with the 1976 agreement.
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