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Paramount Pictures faces copyright lawsuit over 'Top Gun: Maverick'

Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in <em>Top Gun: Maverick.</em>
Paramount Pictures
Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick.

Updated June 8, 2022 at 8:50 AM ET

While Top Gun: Maverick continues to fly high at the box office, a lawsuit over the rights to the movie just landed at Paramount Pictures.

The family of the man whose magazine article inspired the 1986 film Top Gun is suing Paramount Pictures over copyright infringement claims.

Shosh and Yuval Yonay – the widow and son of Ehud Yonay – say they exercised their right to recover the copyright to the story in 2018 and that it took effect in 2020. Paramount did not reacquire the film rights before releasing Top Gun: Maverick, the plaintiffs say.

"On January 24, 2020, the copyright to the Story thus reverted to the Yonays under the Copyright Act, but Paramount deliberately ignored this, thumbing its nose at the statute," said the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Paramount, in a statement to NPR, vowed to fight the lawsuit. "These claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously," the statement read.

In 1983, California magazine published an article by Ehud Yonay called "Top Guns," which told the story of Navy pilots "in a remarkably vivid and cinematic fashion," according to the lawsuit. Paramount secured the film rights to the article weeks later, and the blockbuster film Top Gun was released in 1986.

The Yonays say they've opted to recover the rights to the copyright, which they are permitted to do under the law after 35 years.

That part of the law gives authors the ability to "financially benefit from their creations and participate in some meaningful way in the fruits of their labor," said Marc Toberoff, the family's attorney.

Such a move would not prevent Paramount from continuing to distribute works created when they owned the copyright, such as Top Gun, but it would require the studio to obtain the rights again if it wanted to produce any other films based on Yonay's story after the copyright expired, the family claims.

"They were silent," Toberoff said of the studio. "They did not even attempt for any sum of money to relicense the rights to the story."

According to the lawsuit, Paramount responded to a cease-and-desist letter sent by the Yonays in May denying that Top Gun: Maverick was "obviously derivative" of Yonay's magazine story and arguing that the film was "sufficiently completed" by January 24, 2020.

The Yonays allege that work on Top Gun: Maverick didn't wrap up until 2021, one year after they claim the film rights were no longer owned by Paramount.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez