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Heirs of original ‘Top Gun’ author sue Paramount for copyright infringement

The heirs allege that "Top Gun: Maverick" is based on a 1983 story to which Paramount no longer owns the copyright.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The widow and son of the author of the original 1983 "Top Guns" magazine article, which was the basis for the 1986 blockbuster movie, sued Paramount Pictures, alleging the studio's sequel, "Top Gun: Maverick," infringes on their copyright.

Shosh and Yuval Yonay filed a complaint Monday in federal court in Los Angeles in which they claim that two years ago they terminated the copyright Paramount had acquired in 1983 to their late husband and father's story. They claim the 2022 sequel, just as the 1986 movie, is based on Yehud Yonay's original story, first published in California magazine.

"Despite the 2022 sequel clearly having derived from the story, Paramount consciously failed to secure a new license of film and ancillary rights in the copyrighted story following the Yonays’ recovery of their U.S. copyright on January 24, 2020," the heirs said.

Paramount said that the allegations were without merit and that it would defend itself vigorously.

"Top Gun: Maverick" was released on 4,735 screens in the U.S. over the Memorial Day holiday weekend and has proven to be an unmitigated success, driven by Tom Cruise's star power and positive reviews. The movie has already taken in about $549 million in international ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.

Ehud Yonay’s 1983 magazine story recounted the experiences of two lieutenants at the Navy Fighter Weapons School training program, one a hotshot pilot, Yogi, and his friend and second in the two-man cockpit, Possum. The story portrayed the Naval Air Station "as a place of death-defying competition, comradery, romanticism, and 1950s post-war nostalgia," according to the complaint, prompting Paramount to acquire the exclusive rights to it mere weeks after its publication.

Under the U.S. copyright law of 1976, an author can terminate a copyright assignment after 35 years, which the Yonay heirs did. In 2018, they say, they notified Paramount of their intent to end the studio's right to the story, which went into effect early 2020. The termination doesn't pertain to Paramount's rights to the 1986 movie, but, according to the heirs, required the studio to negotiate a new license for the sequel.

When the Yonays sent Paramount a cease-and-desist letter last month regarding the sequel, the studio allegedly denied that the new movie was based on the 1983 story and argued that the movie was  “sufficiently completed” by Jan. 24, 2020, the effective termination date.

The Yonay heirs are asking for a judicial declaration that that the 2022 sequel is derivative of Ehud Yonay's 1983 story, an injunction to prevent Paramount from further alleged infringement, and unspecified damages. They are represented by Marc Toberoff, of Toberoff & Associates in Malibu, California, and Alex Kozinski.

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