Nothing in Hollywood is more certain than the fact that a successful film will spawn a sequel and oftentimes a copyright infringement lawsuit as well. Such is the case with Top Gun: Maverick.
Top Gun: Maverick, Paramount’s sequel to the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun, met with massive success. Raking in $1.4 billion worldwide and $700 million in the U.S., it is the twelfth highest-grossing film ever.
The family of late reporter Ehud Yonay filed a lawsuit against Paramount (the studio that released both Top Gun Moves) alleging that Maverick infringes on the Top Gun source material, a magazine article of the same name about the Navy Fighter Weapons School. Yonay alleged in his first amended complaint filed on August 31, 2022, that he originally licensed the rights to the story to Paramount to produce Top Gun. However, those rights reverted to the reporter’s family in 2020, following a notice of termination pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 203(a). Under the Copyright Act, copyright owners may terminate an assignment of their work after 35 years from the date of the original assignment. In this case, the original assignment was in 1983 and plaintiffs sent a timely notice of termination in 2018, effective January 2020, upon filing the notice with the US Copyright Office. With Maverick’s release in 2022, plaintiffs allege Paramount failed to reacquire the rights to the article.
Paramount, of course, denied any substantial similarity between the “protectible expression” of the Yonay article and Maverick in their motion to dismiss filed on September 28, 2022. Paramount argued that the article is based upon facts—the Navy training facility—and facts are in the public domain for all to use. Paramount further argued that facts and even interpretations of facts upon which Yonay’s article are based are free to copy. And any similarity between the two works—even if Maverick is inspired by the Yonay article—is “unprotectable,” meaning the similarities do not rise to copying of the ever elusive “copyrightable expression.”
On November 9, 2022, the court denied Paramount’s motion to dismiss. The Honorable Percy Anderson held that at this early stage of the case, there were enough facts pled in the complaint for reasonable minds to differ on the issue of substantial similarity of the two works. The court further found that there is a fact-intensive analysis necessary to determine substantial similarity between “protectible elements” of the two works. The court deferred engaging in the fact-intensive analysis at this time.
The Yonays are represented by Marc Toberoff and Jaymie Parkkinen of Toberoff & Associates PC, and Alex Kozinski.
Paramount is represented by Molly M. Lens, Daniel M. Petrocelli and Kendall Turner of O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
The suit is Shosh Yonay et al. v. Paramount Pictures Corporation et al., case number 2:22-cv-03846, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is a boutique entertainment and business law firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The Firm has extensive experience handling cases involving copyright law, having provided top-quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized for its many achievements, including successfully litigating many high-profile cases.