Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull maybe over 30 years old and considered a modern classic of cinema, but the film is now at the center of a copyright case that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court. Oral arguments on the case were heard today in Washington.
Back in October, the Court agreed to hear the case. At the center is the question: How long can someone wait before filing a copyright infringement suit. Paula Petrella, the daughter of Frank Petrella, sued MGM in 2009, 18 years after she first learned that her father may have a copyright stake in a 1963 script called The Raging Bull. Petrella’s father had worked with Jake La Motta, the boxer that both the screenplay and the film are about.
According to Variety, the justices didn’t really give a clear idea as to who they might side with. The Copyright Act does have a three-year statute of limitations, but lower courts have already shut down her claims because of how long it took her to file the lawsuit. That’s the position that MGM has taken.
Reuters reports that some justices did understand MGM’s position. “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,” Justice Antonin Scalia told Stephanos Bibas, who is representing Petrella.
However, Justice Sonia Sotomayor seemed to side with Petrolla, asking “What’s so bad about that?” when MGM’s lawyer, Mark Perry, suggested that Petrella was just trying to “skin the cream” of the profits with the suit.
Petrella sued MGM at a time when MGM was re-releasing Raging Bull on home video, which the studio says cost $8.5 million to do. The Motion Picture Association of America has said that if the Court rules in Petrella’s favor, it could dissuade studios from re-releasing old films in fear of copyright lawsuits.
A ruling is expected in June.