Could Paramount Lose ‘Top Gun’?

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick star. Photo: Christopher Jue/Getty Images
Eriq Gardner
June 6, 2022

Paramount Pictures has been hit with a potentially headache-inducing lawsuit claiming that the studio had already lost its rights to Top Gun and that the latest sequel represents a copyright infringement. The suit, filed today in California federal court, comes from Shosh and Yuval Yonay, heirs of the writer Ehud Yonay, whose story in the April, 1983 issue of California magazine, entitled “Top Guns,” was source material for the original 1980s Tom Cruise classic. His story focused on pilots and their personal experiences, including a hotshot pilot “Yogi” and his radio intercept officer. According to the suit, Paramount licensed the magazine article within weeks of the story’s publication.

The Yonays are exploiting a provision of copyright law that allows authors and their heirs to reclaim rights granted to publishers and studios after waiting 35 years. According to the suit, as well as copyright records I’ve reviewed, a termination notice claims to have recovered rights to the “Top Gun” story on Jan. 24, 2020. 

The Yonays, now represented by copyright termination heavyweight Marc Toberoff—who is also representing comic book heirs looking to terminate Disney’s full right to Marvel characters—allege in the complaint that Paramount “deliberately ignored [the copyright termination], thumbing its nose at the statute.” The case, Toberoff contends, “arises out of Paramount’s conscious failure to re-acquire the requisite film and ancillary rights to the Yonays’ copyrighted Story prior to the completion and release of their derivative 2022 Sequel.” (Paramount responded in a statement, “These claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”)