The original “Top Gun” was based on a 1983 article in California magazine. On Monday, the author’s heirs sued Paramount Pictures, claiming that the studio is profiting wildly from the sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick,” even though it no longer holds the copyright to the magazine story.
The article’s author, Ehud Yonay, died in 2012. His widow, Shosh Yonay, and son, Yuval Yonay, filed a notice in 2018 reclaiming the copyright to the story, which took effect in 2020.
In the lawsuit, they argue that Paramount distributed “Top Gun: Maverick” without obtaining a new license to use the underlying material. The suit seeks damages as well as an injunction that would bar Paramount from distributing the film.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is currently the top grossing film in theaters, with a domestic haul nearing $300 million.
The Yonays are represented by Marc Toberoff, an attorney who is a veteran of copyright termination battles with the major studios. He is currently involved in a lawsuit against Marvel, which is challenging termination notices he filed on behalf of five comic book creators. In that case, the authors each claim fractional ownership of the copyrights in question, so the issue largely boils down to whether they are due additional compensation — not whether Marvel can be blocked from exploiting the characters involved.
Under Section 203 of the Copyright Act, authors have the right to terminate transfers of copyright after a period of 35 years.
“Top Gun: Maverick” went into production in May 2018 and was originally due to be released in July 2019. The film was postponed by a year, to June 2020, to allow more time to work on flight sequences, and was then delayed by an additional two years due to the pandemic. The lawsuit contends that the film was not actually completed until May 2021, more than a year after the termination notice took effect.
Paramount responded with the comment, “These claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that “Top Gun: Maverick” was originally set for a June 2020 release.