Lawyers on both sides failed to deliver a knockout blow
during the hour-long oral argument concerning the critically
acclaimed movie about the life of champion boxer Jake LaMotta,
nicknamed Raging Bull.
The court is hearing a claim brought by Paula Petrella, daughter
of deceased screenwriter Frank Petrella. She says MGM Holdings
Inc and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment owe her money
for infringing the copyright of a 1963 screenplay upon which she
alleges the movie was based. Fox, a subsidiary of Twenty-First
Century Fox Inc is a defendant because it has the rights to
distribute MGM movies on DVD.
The 1980 movie, starring Robert DeNiro and directed by Martin
Scorsese, won two Academy Awards in 1981, including the best
actor award for DeNiro.
The legal question is whether MGM can argue in its defense that
Petrella, who sued in 2009, waited too long to assert her claim.
The Motion Picture Association of America and other industry
groups say a ruling for Petrella could discourage studios,
publishers and distributors from reissuing old movies because
unexpected copyright claims years after an original release
could lead to years of litigation.
Groups representing authors, including Authors Guild Inc, have
filed court papers in support of Petrella.
During the dense legal argument, few of the nine justices
indicated how they would vote, although several indicated some
sympathy for MGM's position.
Justice Antonin Scalia told Petrella's lawyer, Stephanos Bibas,
that MGM had acted in good faith.
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"They invested substantial amounts of money, and
then, when that money starts to pay off, you file suit and you get
three years' worth of their profits," he said.
In an exchange with MGM's lawyer, Mark Perry, Justice Sonia
Sotomayor voiced some support for Petrella.
Perry said that by seeking damages at such a late
date, Petrella was trying to "skin the cream" after MGM had invested
a considerable amount of money.
"What's so bad about that?" Sotomayor said.
Petrella, who inherited rights to the screenplay upon her father's
death in 1981, sued when MGM was marketing the movie on DVD,
including a new Blu-ray edition. MGM says it spent almost $8.5
million on the re-release.
A federal district court judge in the Central District of California
and the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both
ruled in favor of MGM.
A ruling is expected by the end of June. The case is Petrella v.
MGM, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-1315.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; editing
by Howard Goller and David Gregorio)
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