• The Hollywood Reporter on LinkedIn
  • Follow THR on Pinterest

Heir of 'Raging Bull' screenwriter is looking at MGM, Fox

Ragingbull Here we go with another big case involving the estate of a dead author trying to grab back from a studio the copyright to a famous property. And this one involves one of our favorite movies, the 1980 Martin Scorsese-directed classic, "Raging Bull."

The daughter of Frank Petrella, one of the authors of the "Raging Bull" screenplay, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Paula Petrella claims that because her father died in 1981, before the original term of the copyright grant expired, that rights to "Raging Bull" reverted to the heirs. Paula's mother, Eleanor, died in 2005, and Paula's brother, Peter, signed away his rights to Paula, leaving the daughter with her claim of full ownership.

She wants MGM and Fox to transfer ownership in "Raging Bull" to her and also pay $1 million in copyright infringement damages. Obviously, the defendants will fight this one hard: They reportedly are set to release a Blu-Ray version of the classic for the first time later this year.

Studios have been plagued with a number of lawsuits from estates in recent years, and has had a bit of trouble defending them. Most famously and most recently, the estates of authors who created "Superman" and "Lassie" invoked 1976 and 1998 statutory adjustments in U.S. Copyright law to terminate a copyright assignments to studios. We wrote about the Superman and Lassie cases last year. Many of these cases involved attorney Marc Toberoff on the plaintiff side, creating a world of trouble for studios that believed they had locked these properties up decades earlier.

Representing Paula Petrella in this case is Glen Kulik of Kulik Gottesman. The plaintiff is relying not on "termination" but on "reversion," or what happens when an author dies before renewal of a copyright term comes up. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed this issue in its well-known 1990 "Rear Window" decision Stewart v. Abend with a favorable rulingn to the successor of the author, though studios have managed to navigate themselves out of tricky situations like this one before.