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OFF BEAT: 'Raging Bull' copyright dispute heading to nation's highest court


The fight over one of Hollywood’s biggest-ever fight movies is headed to the nation’s highest court.

On Jan. 21, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case concerning who owns the copyright to Martin Scorsese’s 1980 “Raging Bull,” the story of boxer Jake LaMotta.

Paula Petrella, whose father, Frank Petrella, wrote two screenplays and a book used in the making of the film, asserts that the rights to the screenplays and book have passed to his heirs because he died in 1981, before the original copyright term expired.

Ms. Petrella alleges that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. and Fox Home Entertainment L.L.C. owe her millions for copyright infringement.

She originally sued in 2009, but MGM argued that she had delayed too long in filing her suit, and the 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco agreed. The court ruled based on a legal doctrine known as laches, which bars suits brought after unreasonable delays, rather than the statute of limitations in the Copyright Act, which would have allowed the suit.

Ms. Petrella asked the nation’s highest court to overturn the ruling and send the case back for trial.

The Motion Picture Association of America has filed an amicus brief in support of MGM and Fox.

In an unusual twist, the Obama administration also has been granted permission to participate in oral arguments before the court next week, where the U.S Solicitor General will represent the administration.