The family of the author whose story inspired the original 1986 film filed the lawsuit.
Shosh and Yuval Yonay -- the heirs of Ehud Yonay, whose 1983 story in California magazine inspired the 1986 classic -- filed a lawsuit in the Central District of California claiming Paramount Pictures failed to reacquire the rights to Yonay's article headlined "Top Guns."
In a statement to ET, a spokesperson for Paramount says "these claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously."
According to legal docs obtained by ET, the Yonays claim that they sent Paramount a statutory notice to terminate the rights in 2018. The suit alleges the termination notice was recorded with the U.S. Copyright Office on Jan. 29, 2018. Furthermore, the Yonays claim they recovered the rights to the story under the Copyright Act on Jan. 23, 2020.
The Yonays believe that the case arises out of Paramount's conscious failure to re-acquire the rights to the Yonays’ copyrighted story prior to the completion and release of the sequel. For context, Top Gun: Maverick wrapped production in June 2019, though the Yonays claim the sequel "was not completed until May 8, 2021, more than one year after Paramount’s Grant had been statutorily terminated." The Yonays add that the sequel, unlike the 1986 film, "does not qualify for the 'prior derivative works exception' to statutory termination, and thus infringes the copyright owned by the Yonays."
The lawsuit also claims that the "2022 Sequel to the 1986 Film, again produced by [Jerry] Bruckheimer and on which [Jim] Cash and [Jack] Epps [Jr.] again received writing credit, is derived from Ehud Yonay’s Story." The suit says, "A review of the 2022 Sequel, like the 1986 Film, reveals key elements that are substantially similar to those in the Story." It should be noted that a factual depiction of the Top Gun fighter pilot school and facts are not subject to copyright.
The Yonays are suing for unspecified damages and a slice of the profits from the sequel. They also want to block the studio from distributing the film and making more sequels.
Mitra Ahouraian, a Beverly Hills-based attorney who is not involved in the lawsuit, explains to ET in more simpler terms what the lawsuit boils down to.
"This is a copyright infringement case where the author who wrote the original magazine article on which the original Top Gun in the 1980s is based is now arguing that Paramount does not have the rights to create a sequel based off of the article that he wrote because that license expired," she explained. "U.S. Copyright laws say that an author has a right to get back or terminate the license that he gave to anyone after a period of 35 years, provided they sent the notice of termination within 5 years of that 35-year mark which the author in this case did, and so he's claiming that Paramount did not have a license to make the sequel to Top Gun."
Ahouraian says there are two arguments here for Paramount, the first being that "the license didn't expire because [Paramount was] substantially done with the film before the 2020 expiration date." She says the second argument is that the studio didn't need the license since "it wasn't really based on the article to begin with" and it was "so different" from the prequel. She also makes note that the original film "didn't give the writer a 'story by' credit and they [instead] gave a 'suggested by' credit, which has some significance."
In the end, Ahouraian says she can see this lawsuit being settled out of court.
"This case is not gonna have a winner or a loser," she explains. "This is the type of case that settles outside of court, not because these are high-profile cases. The writer is asking for injunctive release, which means Paramount would have to pull the movie out of theaters, and that's something that is not gonna happen and it doesn't make sense for them to do that financially. It would also put them [Paramount] in breach of their distribution agreement. So, anytime there's a threat of that, you're almost guaranteed to get a settlement."
Top Gun: Maverick hit theaters last month to critical acclaim, and it has already grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide.
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