As Top Gun: Maverick closes out another record-breaking weekend at the box office, a lawsuit over rights to the patriotic action film, starring Tom Cruise, just landed at Paramount Pictures.
The copyright suit, filed on Monday in California federal court, comes from the family of Ehud Yonay, the man whose 1983 California magazine article entitled “Top Guns” inspired the 1986 film Top Gun, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Shosh and Yuval Yonay—the widow and son of the late writer—are exerting a provision in copyright law which allows authors to reclaim the rights to their work after a period of time, typically 35 years.
The Yonays allege that the rights to the article reverted to them in January 2020 after they sent Paramount a notice of termination two years prior. They claim that the studio “deliberately ignored this, thumbing its nose at the statute,” according to the suit, NPR reports.
In a statement to NPR, Paramount said the family’s “claims are without merit” and that company “will defend ourselves vigorously.”
Paramount acquired the copyright to Ehud’s article, which told the story of Navy pilots “in a remarkably vivid and cinematic fashion,” shortly after it was published in California magazine.
The blockbuster film Top Gun hit the big screen in 1986. The original film was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and its screenplay written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., all of whom participated in the sequel, according to THR.
The Yonays claim that Paramount “consciously failed” to secure a new license to the movie after they recovered their rights in 2020. They said that they sent the studio a cease-and-desist letter regarding the latest film, Top Gun: Maverick, in May, two weeks before its release.
According to the suit, Paramount responded to the letter, denying that the film was “obviously derivative” of Ehud’s magazine article and claiming that it was “sufficiently completed” by January 24, 2020.
But the Yonays allege that Maverick hadn’t finished production until May 2021, more than a year after its rights to the article had expired.
Maverick was initially scheduled for release in 2019 but was delayed until the following year. The release date was postponed multiple times due to the COVID pandemic. It’s unclear when Paramount actually finished the film, but the timeline will be crucial in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, including some profits from Maverick, and to block Paramount from distributing the movie or further sequels, CNBC reports.
As of Sunday, the film earned $86 million this weekend for a North American total of $291.6 million, according to estimates from measurement firm Comscore, the Los Angeles Times reports. The latest box office sales make Maverick Cruise’s high-grossing domestic release of his career.
The Yonays are being represented by Marc Toberoff, an intellectual property attorney who specializes in copyright and entertainment litigation. He is currently representing several comic book heirs seeking to terminate Disney’s full rights to Marvel characters and the script writer of the original Friday the 13th, according to CNBC.
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