Can the laches defense be raised to bar all remedies for copyright claims filed within the three-year statute of limitations prescribed by Congress?
Frank Petrella was the screenwriter behind the critically acclaimed 1980 film Raging Bull. In 1978, United Artists Corporation, a subsidiary of Respondent Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (“MGM”), acquired the rights to the screenplay. When Frank Petrella died in 1981, the renewal rights passed to his heirs. His daughter, Petitioner Paula Petrella (“Petrella”), renewed the copyright in 1991. Over the next two decades, Petrella and MGM engaged in a series of communications, during which Petrella accused MGM of infringing her copyright. Petrella filed suit in 2009; pursuant to the three-year statute of limitations of the Copyright Act, the suit only involved claims arising from 2006 on. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision to bar Petrella’s copyright claims according to the non-statutory doctrine of laches, an equitable defense that bars claims filed too late. The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case will impact not only how quickly plaintiffs must bring copyright claims, but also the extent to which equitable defenses may apply to an area regulated by Congress.
Jake LaMotta, a retired professional boxer, and his long-time friend Frank Petrella collaborated on a book and two screenplays about LaMotta’s life and boxing career. See Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 695 F.3d 946, 949 (9th Cir.