On May 19th, the Supreme Court resolved a circuit split in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The Court ruled that the doctrine of laches does not bar copyright infringement suits if the suits are brought within the Copyright Act’s three-year rolling statute of limitations, absent extraordinary circumstances.
In reversing the Ninth Circuit, the Court held that laches serves a gap-filling function and should be applied only in the absence of a limitation period. Because the Copyright Act provides a three-year limitation period, laches does not apply to copyright suits, except in extraordinary circumstances. This was not such a case.
In this case, boxing champion Jake LaMotta and his friend Frank Petrella copyrighted a screenplay in 1963 about LaMotta’s boxing career. An MGM subsidiary later acquired the rights. In 1980, MGM released and copyrighted Raging Bull, a film based off of the screenplay. Petrella died in 1981, and his daughter eventually obtained sole ownership of his copyright. She renewed it in 1991 and, in 1998, informed MGM that its exploitation of Raging Bull infringed on her copyright. In 2009, she sued MGM for infringing acts since 2006 pursuant to the separate-accrual rule, which creates a new limitation period for each infringing act. Continue reading