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Court Allows 'Raging Bull' Lawsuit To Go Forward

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a copyright dispute over the 1980 Oscar-winning movie "Raging Bull" can go another round in court.

The justices said in a 6-3 decision that Paula Petrella, daughter of the late screenwriter Frank Petrella, did not wait too long to file her lawsuit against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer claiming an interest in the film.

Petrella's father collaborated with legendary boxer Jake LaMotta on a book and two screenplays, which inspired the movie directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert DeNiro. The elder Petrella died in 1981, with copyrights reverting to his daughter.

She sued MGM in 2009 seeking royalties from continuing commercial use of the film. But a federal judge said she waited too long because she had been aware of the potential to file a lawsuit as early as 1991. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, relying on the studio's argument that Petrella's delay of nearly two decades in bringing the case was unreasonable.

The Supreme Court reversed, giving Petrella a chance to resurrect her lawsuit. The decision is a blow to Hollywood studios, which have long relied on the legal doctrine of unreasonable delay to prevent distant relatives and estates from bringing copyright claims years or decades after movies have been released.

Federal copyright law allows people to bring copyright claims within three years of an infringing act. Petrella's claim fell within that time because the studio continued to release the film on DVD and other formats for years and every new release essentially reset the clock for copyright purposes.

— The Associated Press

Image: This 1980 file photo showing Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in a boxing scene from Martin Scorsese's film "Raging Bull."
FILE - This 1980 file photo showing Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in a boxing scene from Martin Scorsese's film "Raging Bull." (AP Photo, File) AP, file