Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro in a scene from the motion picture Raging Bull. 1980. - / MGM Home Entertainment
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that MGM can be sued for copyright infringement more than three decades after releasing the popular boxing film Raging Bull.
The justices crossed ideological lines in their 6-3 ruling for the daughter of a man who collaborated with boxer Jake LaMotta on two screenplays and a book in the 1960s, which led to the 1980 flick starring Robert DeNiro.
The decision, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, gives Paula Petrella the right to proceed with her copyright infringement claim even though it was filed in 2009, long after most of the participants and witnesses died.
"MGM released Raging Bull more than three decades ago and has marketed it continuously since then," Ginsburg said. "Allowing Petrella's suit to go forward will put at risk only a fraction of the income MGM has earned during that period."
Ginsburg was joined by a mix of the court's most liberal and most conservative members. Dissenting were those closest to the middle - Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts.
"In those few and unusual cases where a plaintiff unreasonably delays in bringing suit and consequently causes inequitable harm to the defendant, the doctrine permits a court to bring about a fair result," Breyer said.
Petrella, whose father, Frank, died in 1981, sought what the statute of limitations in copyright cases offers - damages for three years from 2006 to 2009 and an injunction against future use of his work. MGM Holdings and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, which distributes the film on DVD, argued that she waited too long to bring the case.
Two lower courts had ruled against Petrella, and several justices noted during oral arguments earlier this year that by waiting to file her case, Petrella - and others who might follow in similar copyright cases - could be trying to maximize profits.
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