More Money, More Problems? Paramount Faces Copyright Lawsuit Over Their Massive Blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick

Anita Gogia is a IPilogue Writer and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

If you left your house within the last 3 weeks, you have heard of the film Top Gun: Maverick. The film is a sequel to the 1986 Top Gun, and has become Paramount’s second highest grossing film, and Tom Cruise’s biggest film ever.

As of June 6, 2022 a claim has been filed by Shosh Yonay and Yuval Yonay against Paramount Pictures Corporations for all “gains, profits and advantages Paramount has derived” from the Top Gun sequel. Shosh and Yuval are also seeking injunctive relief from production, reproduction, distribution or exploitation of Top Gun: Maverick. In their response, Paramount has said in response that “[t]hese claims are without merit and [it] will vigorously defend [itself].” 

Shosh and Yuval Yonay are the widow and son of Ehud Yonay, respectively. Ehud Yonay authored the 1983 California magazine article that inspired Top Gun. Shosh and Yuval claim that Paramount has infringed on the copyright to Ehud’s article which they own as of January 24th, 2020. Shosh and Yuval filed a statutory notice of termination under the Copyright Act in 2018, reclaiming copyright to the story they are heirs to and which took effect in 2020. Per s. 203 of the Copyright Act, authors have the right to terminate grants of copyright after thirty-five years.

While Paramount owned exclusive movie rights to the “Top Gun” story from Ehud’s article at the time of Top Gun, Shosh and Yuval claim that Paramount deliberately ignored the 2020 reversion of the copyright to them.  Paramount has denied that Top Gun: Maverick was obviously derived from the Ehud’s article, and argue that the film was “sufficiently completed” when the copyright reverted. Shosh and Yuval say this is a “disingenuous attempt” and that the sequel was in fact completed in May 2021. While Top Gun: Maverick was originally planned to release in July 2019, the film was postponed a year to complete production, and then postponed another two years due to the pandemic.

Notably, Shosh and Yuval’s legal team are leading professionals in copyright law. Their attorneys are Marc Toberoff, “a veteran of copyright termination battles with the major studios”, and Alex Kozinski, a “prominent former judge” and “known movie buff who has cultivated a copyright litigation specialty.”

Toberoff explains that s. 203 of the Copyright Act allows authors to “participate in some meaningful way in the fruits of their labor.” Toberoff also says that Paramount didn’t “even attempt for any sum of money to relicense the rights to the story.” 

This case raises the interesting question of whether copyright infringement is possible where the completion of the work was delayed until after the copyright‘s reversion partly due to the global pandemic. In considering the facts and evidence of this case, it will be a distinguished precedent if the court accepts a grace period in copyright reversion due to the pandemic.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

7 + 1 =