Major Lawsuit Against Paramount’s 'Top Gun,' Explained

Rachel Curry - Author
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Jun. 7 2022, Published 1:21 p.m. ET

Currently, 36 years after releasing the original Top Gun movie in 1983, Paramount is breaking box office records with Top Gun: Maverick. A lawsuit may halt that success before it has a chance to fizzle out on its own. The heirs of the original author of the Top Gun magazine story are suing Paramount, suggesting the studio knew exactly what it was doing by releasing the movie without the appropriate movie rights.

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Israeli heirs of author Ehud Yonay, named Shosh and Yuval Yonay, are suing Paramount in California federal court, and the proceedings could get messy.

Ehud Yonay’s heirs sue Paramount over 'Top Gun' story.

Israeli writer Ehud Yonay authored the original Top Gun story, which California Magazine published in 1983. Three years later, a movie came out based on the story.

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Shosh and Yuval Yonay are now suing Paramount over copyright infringement. They filed the lawsuit in California federal court on Monday, June 6. According to a copyright law provision, plaintiffs have the right to reclaim copyright after 35 years. Top Gun: Maverick came out about 36 years after the publication of Yonay’s original story.

Paramount reserved the rights to Yonay’s story for the original movie. However, the Yonay heirs’ lawsuit says the studio failed to follow through with the second film. They allegedly released the movie knowing they didn't have the right to do so.

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Paramount reportedly finished the film on May 8, 2021. At that point, it had already exceeded its copyright allowance. Paramount argues they were “sufficiently completed” at the time of the copyright’s expiration. A lawsuit hearing may help bridge the gap between truth and fiction.

Is the COVID-19 pandemic to blame for Paramount’s lawsuit?

The COVID-19 pandemic and response of shutdowns shuttered many businesses. In December 2021, according to Bloomberg, nearly two years into the pandemic, at least 630 movie theaters, or about 12 percent of the nation’s theater market, remained closed. Because of this, studios postponed projects, even the ones poised to be box office hits (as a Top Gun addendum featuring Tom Cruise himself is known to do).

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Film critic Kenneth Turan wrote on Twitter about his former California Magazine colleague, who he called “a fearless, acerbic Israeli.”

Are 'Top Gun' heirs setting a trend for reclaiming copyright?

The Yonay heirs may have set a precedent for other 1980s movies with borrowed storylines whose rights agreements have expired. Already, the incident isn't alone. Predator (1987) screenwriters sued Disney over the 2018 remake. Attorneys Marc Toberoff and Alex Kozinski represented those writers, settling in court last year. Toberoff and Kozinski are also representing the Yonay heirs, marking a specialty for themselves.

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Toberoff and Koznski say about the Top Gun debacle, “This case arises out of Paramount’s conscious failure to re-acquire the requisite film and ancillary rights to the Yonays’ copyrighted Story prior to the completion and release of their derivative 2022 Sequel.”

Paramount’s take is wildly different, with the studio stating, “These claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

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