In 1709 (or was it 1710?) the Statute of Anne created the first purpose-built copyright law. This blog, founded just 300 short and unextended years later, is dedicated to all things copyright, warts and all. To contact the 1709 Blog, email Eleonora at eleonorarosati[at]gmail.com
Wednesday, 2 October 2013
US Supreme Court to Hear Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
in the case of Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). The question presented
nonstatutory defense of laches is available without restriction to bar all
remedies for civil copyright claims filed within the three-year statute of
limitations prescribed by Congress, 17 U.S.C.(b)?”
Jake LaMotta retired from professional boxing in 1954. In
1963, LaMotta collaborated with long-time friend, Frank Peter Petrella, to
produce a screenplay based on his life. The
copyright in this screenplay was subsequently transferred to Chartoff-Winkler
Productions in 1976. Two years later United Artists, a subsidiary of MGM,
acquired the motion picture rights from Chartoff-Winkler. MGM and United Artists went on to produce the
highly acclaimed 1980 biopic, Raging
Bull, based on the life of LaMotta.
Mr. Petrella passed away in 1981. Because he died during the
first twenty-eight years of the copyright term, his renewal
rights reverted to his heirs. In 1991,
Mr. Petrella’s daughter, Paula, successfully renewed the copyright in the 1963 screenplay. Despite the renewal, MGM and United Artists continued to reproduce and
distribute the movie. In 1998 Ms. Petrella contacted MGM and United Artists to
assert her exclusive rights but distribution of the film continued.
In 2009, Ms. Petrella sued MGM for copyright infringement.
As section 507(b) of the Copyright Act 1976 establishes a three-year statute of
limitations, Ms. Petrella claimed damages only for the copyright infringement
occurring between 2006 and 2009. The defendants countered that the equitable defense
of laches applied. Because Ms. Petrella first became aware of the infringement in 1991, she ought to be barred from claiming copyright infringement
during the 2006 to 2009 period, MGM claimed. In 2010, the US District Court for the Central
District of California agreed with MGM that laches applied. The Ninth Circuit
Court of Appeals subsequently upheld the decision.
In April 2013, Ms. Petrella petitioned the US Supreme Court to
resolve this issue. In requesting a determination, her petition stated that the federal courts of appeals currently are split on whether laches applies in such cases. Three circuits believe that laches never applies in such
circumstances; two believe it only applies in the most rare cases; only the
ninth circuit believes it routinely applies. She further argues that allowing
this split to continue will breed forum shopping, and that it runs counter to
Congress’s desire to maintain a uniform national copyright law. Yesterday, the
Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and we now await the decision.
This blogger is particularly interested in this question. Please feel free to tell me what the situation is like in other jurisdictions.