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Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

United States Supreme Court
134 S. Ct. 1962 (2014)


Facts

Jake La Motta was a famous boxing champion. After La Motta retired from boxing, La Motta and Frank Petrella wrote a book and two screenplays about La Motta’s boxing career, each of which was copyrighted. One of the screenplays, which was registered for copyright in 1963, is at issue in this case. Frank Petrella and LaMotta assigned their rights in the book and screenplays to United Artists Corporation (defendant), a subsidiary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Incorporated (MGM) (defendant). The assignment granted exclusive rights to the works and purported to last forever, including during any renewal periods for the copyrights. MGM produced and released a film based on the works entitled Raging Bull. Raging Bull received critical acclaim, but did not make a significant profit until new versions of the film were released, which required a significant investment, about 20 years later. When Frank Petrella died in 1981, his interest in the copyrights was transferred to his daughter, Paula Petrella (plaintiff). Petrella renewed her copyright in the 1963 screenplay in 1991 and was the sole owner of the copyright. Petrella notified MGM of her copyright seven years later and asserted that any continued reproduction and distribution of Raging Bull constituted copyright infringement. MGM denied that Raging Bull infringed the copyright and continued to invest in new editions. In 2009, Petrella filed a copyright-infringement suit, seeking both injunctive and monetary relief for infringements that occurred within three years of filing. MGM moved for summary judgment based on the doctrine of laches, which the district court granted. Petrella appealed, and the circuit court affirmed the district court’s decision. Petrella petitioned for a writ of certiorari.

Rule of Law

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Holding and Reasoning (Ginsburg, J.)

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