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Israeli heirs of author who inspired ‘Top Gun’ sue Paramount over sequel

Widow and son of Ehud Yonay claim they ended copyright transfer in 2020 but that studio ignored it and went ahead with ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ release anyway

Tom Cruise poses for the media during the 'Top Gun Maverick' UK premiere at a central London cinema, on May 19, 2022. (Alberto Pezzali/AP)
Tom Cruise poses for the media during the 'Top Gun Maverick' UK premiere at a central London cinema, on May 19, 2022. (Alberto Pezzali/AP)

The Israeli heirs of the author who inspired the 1986 blockbuster “Top Gun” movie filed a lawsuit Monday against Paramount Pictures, claiming it produced and released its recent sequel even though it no longer holds the copyright to the story.

The original “Top Gun” was based on a 1983 article in Californian magazine by Ehud Yonay, who died in 2021. The magazine piece described the high-adrenaline world of jet pilots at the US Navy’s “Top Gun” fighter training school. Yonay also later wrote a book, “NO MARGIN FOR ERROR: The Making of the Israeli Air Force.”

His widow and son, Shosh and Ehud Yonay, who live in Israel, argued in their lawsuit that the studio no longer holds the copyright to the magazine story but is nonetheless benefitting from the sequel film “Top Gun: Maverick.”

The Yonays told the Los Angeles court that the studio is “thumbing its nose” at federal copyright law, Reuters reported.

They are seeking damages and an injunction against the distribution of the new film. The suit was filed in California on behalf of the Yonays by Marc Toberoff, an attorney who specializes in copyright termination cases.

Under Section 203 of the Copyright Act, authors can end the transfer of copyright after 35 years. Although Paramount was given the rights for the original movie, according to the lawsuit, the Yonays claim they notified the studio in 2018 that they were ending the transfer and that copyright to the story would revert to them in 2020.

“Top Gun: Maverick” began production in 2018, and was due for release the following year. However, it was delayed until June 2020 as more work was done on flight sequences, Variety magazine reported. The COVID-19 pandemic then caused a further two-year delay.

According to the lawsuit, work on the film did not end until May 2021, by which time termination of the copyright transfer had already been effective for over a year.

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

The sequel, starring Tom Cruise, who was also in the original, was released last month and has already grossed more than $300 million dollars.

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