October 2, 2013

‘Raging Bull’ copyright claim heads to Supreme Court

The court will also hear a gun ownership case.

Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court, preparing for the beginning of its new term, announced Tuesday that it had agreed to decide eight new cases, including a copyright dispute over the 1980 Oscar-winning boxing film “Raging Bull,” and a case that will consider what constitutes a crime of violence that could prohibit someone from owning a gun.

The court, which has said it will proceed normally despite the government shutdown, is due to hear the first round of arguments next week.

Justices met behind closed doors Monday to sift through more than 2,000 appeals that piled up over the summer. They chose eight cases to be heard for a full argument in January.

The court took no action on the most closely watched disputes, including challenges to the Obama’s greenhouse-gas regulations.

The copyright dispute turns on whether Paula Petrella, whose father, Frank Petrella, wrote the book and screenplay for “Raging Bull,” waited too long to sue over the renewal of his copyright. In 1976, Frank Petrella and boxer Jake LaMotta assigned the rights to their book and screenplay to Chartoff-Winkler Productions. And in 1978, United Artists and MGM acquired the motion picture rights.

But in 2009, Paula Petrella sued MGM for alleged copyright infringement, saying she had spent years asserting her rights to renew her father’s copyright for the book and screenplay after it expired in 1991. (Frank Petrella died in 1981.) A federal judge in Los Angeles and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her claim on the grounds that she had waited too long to sue. But Judge William Fletcher pointed out that the 9th Circuit has a reputation for protecting the Hollywood studios. “Our circuit is the most hostile to copyright owners of all the circuits,” he wrote.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephanos Bibas appealed on behalf of Petrella and cited Fletcher’s comment. He argued that the 9th Circuit had adopted a statute of limitations for copyright claims that was not in the law. vs. MGM to resolve the dispute.

In the gun case, the court will decide whether a person convicted of domestic violence can be prohibited from owning firearms even if there was no proof that he or she used actual physical force against a spouse or family member.

Federal law forbids gun ownership by anyone convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of violence,” but judges are split on how to define that crime.

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