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Paramount sued for releasing ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ without copyright license

Paramount Pictures Corp. was accused in a lawsuit of releasing its blockbuster “Top Gun: Maverick” without securing a license from the estate of the writer whose story inspired the original film about four decades ago.

The author’s heirs claim the studio has been on notice since 2018 that its copyrights to the “Top Gun” franchise were terminated — and that it went ahead to release the sequel last month without permission.

“These claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously,” Paramount said in a statement.

“Top Gun” is a jewel in Paramount’s portfolio of iconic intellectual property. While the studio has had other number-one films in recent years, including installments of “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “A Quiet Place,” none have matched the box office performance of the Tom Cruise-led fighter pilot movie.

“Top Gun: Maverick” was Paramount’s biggest box office opening since it had the rights to release “Iron Man” in 2010. And the film has almost already made more in its first two weeks than any other movie the studio has distributed in the last decade, according to information from IMDbPro.

The lawsuit comes from Shosh and Yuval Yonay, the heirs of Ehud Yonay, whose 1983 story was the basis of the original 1986 film “Top Gun.”

Ehud Yonay published “Top Guns” in April 1983 in an issue of California magazine and registered it in the U.S. Copyright Office later that year. Soon after it was published Paramount secured exclusive motion picture rights to the story, according to the complaint filed Monday in Los Angeles federal court.

But the Yonays claim that after sending Paramount a statutory notice of termination under the Copyright Act in 2018, they became the sole owners of the US copyright for the story in 2020. They said they invoked a provision of the law that allows artists who transfer copyrights to reclaim those rights 35 years later.

The case was filed by Marc Toberoff, an attorney who specializes in suing movie studios on behalf of artists and writers. Toberoff has represented legendary comic book artists in litigation with Walt Disney Co. stemming from the media giant’s acquisition of the Marvel super hero franchise in 2009.

Also on the Yonays’ team is Alex Kozinski, a prominent former judge on the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and known movie buff who has cultivated a copyright litigation specialty.

The Yonays allege that Paramount’s response to their May cease-and-desist letter was “total denial of the fact that its 2022 sequel was obviously derivative of” Ehud Yonay’s story. Paramount claimed the movie was “sufficiently completed” before the effective termination date of its copyrights, according to the complaint.

The case is Yonay v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 22-cv-03846, US District Court, District of Central California (Los Angeles).  Bloomberg

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