Paramount ‘seems to crush the little guy’ as studio faces ‘Top Gun’ lawsuit, legal expert says

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“Top Gun: Maverick,” while wildly successful, grossing an estimated $295 million at the domestic box office, now has a legal battle on its hands.

Paramount has been sued for copyright infringement by the family of the author of the original story used for “Top Gun.”

A Paramount Pictures spokesperson told FOX News Digital, “these claims are without merit, and we will vigorously defend ourselves.”

The lawsuit was filed by Shosh and Yuval Yonay on Monday in California. The Yonays are the heirs of Ehud Yonay, the author of the 1983 “Top Guns” article. The script for the original “Top Gun” movie was based on the article.

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Tom Cruise is pictured here at the UK premiere of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’. Cruise is not personally sued.
(Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

“It’s definitely an interesting case, considering it’s a highly regarded property with a top-tier cast and huge budget.” Entertainment attorney Rod Lindblom, who is not involved in the lawsuit, told FOX News Digital.

“As a practitioner, I will certainly observe how some of the specific issues in each case are decided over the next few years, as this will have a significant impact on an area of ​​law that is currently in a state of flux,” he said. for follow-up. “But the main takeaway is that studios need to take the reversion of rights claims much more seriously.

“Why wouldn’t a studio with a valuable franchise or iconic intellectual property, in which it is going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars, keep financial peace with potential rights holders?” thought Lindblom. “The idea of ​​’apologizing later’ is pretty bad when you’re talking about a huge studio that seems to be crushing the little guy.”

Greg Tarzan Davis, Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly attend the screening of "Top Gun: Maverick" at the 75th annual Cannes film festival.  Paramount is sued for copyright in "Top Gun: Maverick."

Greg Tarzan Davis, Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly attend the screening of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ during the 75th Cannes Film Festival. Paramount is sued for the copyright on “Top Gun: Maverick”.
(Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

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Lindblom further insisted that “frankly, it’s arrogant and, more importantly, legally risky, when it’s not necessary”.

Meanwhile, copyright attorney Marc Ostrow of New York-based Romano Law, who is also not involved in the case, told Fox News Digital how it could happen.

“This case concerns the effect of serving a ‘termination’ notice under Section 203 of the Copyright Act,” he detailed. “Serving notice of termination is quite common with old and valuable works, as the provision was enacted to give creators (or their heirs) a ‘second bite of apple’ so they could make a new deal. for the exploitation of their work, given that early in their careers he may not have had much bargaining power.”

Ostrow shared that Section 203 “gives creators (or heirs) the right to terminate a rights assignment by contract for a five-year window beginning 35 years from the rights assignment.”

Director Joseph Kosinski, Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Glen Powell, Jay Ellis, Greg Tarzan Davis, Lewis Pullman and Jon Hamm attend the screening of "Top Gun: Maverick" during the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals on May 18, 2022.

Director Joseph Kosinski, Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Glen Powell, Jay Ellis, Greg Tarzan Davis, Lewis Pullman and Jon Hamm attend the screening of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ during the 75th Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 18, 2022.
(Dominique Charriau)

He noted that the film rights were awarded to Paramount in 1983 in this case.

“Termination is a delicate process, but assuming all formalities have been followed, a properly drafted notice of termination is automatically enforceable from the ‘effective date’ stated in the notice,” he said. Explain. “Notices cannot be served more than two years before the effective date in the five-year window.”

As to whether star Tom Cruise, who is not personally prosecuted, might have known about the legal situation, Ostrow said “it’s possible but unlikely.”

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“Given the size of Paramount, it’s possible but unlikely that Tom Cruise was initially aware of the advisory,” Ostrow explained. “However, the corporate legal department should have advised the producers of the film, of which Tom is a part, of a potential legal issue, as a notice of termination is legal notice.

Ostrow continued, “The Complaint alleges that Paramount ignored the notice. The Complainants further allege that in response to their May 11 request [cease and desist] letter, Paramount said the film was ‘substantially complete’ before the January 24, 2020 effective date in order to try to take advantage of the ‘prior derivative works’ exception in the law.

“For example, assuming the review is valid, Paramount may continue to exploit the original ‘Top Gun’ film,” Ostrow added.

The lawyer then discussed the possibility of either side winning this case.

“As to the odds of who might win, my reading of the complaint, which comprises nineteen pages listing the similarities between the new film and the original article, leads me to believe that 50-50% is better than that plaintiffs win because I don’t know if the ‘substantially complete’ argument would pass,” Ostrow said in his estimate.

He noted, “I doubt a judge will grant an injunction here, and I think there is virtual certainty that the case will settle with substantial payment to the heirs of the author of the article.”


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