‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ Paramount Hit With Lawsuit, Legal Expert Says Studio Is ‘Seemingly Steamrolling the Little Guy’

by TK Sanders

Top Gun: Maverick made a lot of paper over the weekend, but it also got served papers for a potential copyright technicality. Attorneys for the family of the author behind the original Top Gun in 1986 hit Paramount with a massive lawsuit this week. The family contests that they still have a financial claim to the intellectual property thanks to obscure media laws in California which allow creatives to cash in multiple times on an idea.

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

Top Gun: Maverick grossed over $300 million over Memorial Day weekend, so Paramount will certainly defend themselves.

Shosh and Yuval Yonay, heirs of author Ehud Yonay, filed the lawsuit in California this week. Ehud Yonay wrote the 1983 article “Top Guns,” which inspired the original film.

“It’s definitely an interesting case. It’s a much-loved property with a high-profile cast and massive budget,” entertainment lawyer Rod Lindblom said. “I will definitely watch to see how courts adjudicate some of the case-specific issues over the next several years. It will have a big impact on an area of law that is currently in flux. But the main takeaway is that the studios need to take reversion of rights claims much more seriously.”

The case may hinge upon when, specifically, Top Gun: Maverick finished principal shooting

Lindblom said that the Hollywood practice of acting first, then litigating second (i.e., ask for forgiveness, not permission) could finally backfire in a very public way due to this lawsuit.

“Why would a studio with a valuable franchise or iconic piece of intellectual property, which it is going to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into, not keep the financial peace with potential rights holders?” pondered Lindblom. “The whole ‘ask for forgiveness later’ idea is a pretty bad look. You’re talking about a massive studio seemingly steamrolling the little guy.”

Copyright lawyer Marc Ostrow, who is not working on the case, explained the details of the lawsuit.

“The service of a termination notice is fairly commonplace with older, valuable works. The provision was enacted to give creators (or their heirs) a ‘second bite at the apple’ to be able to make a new deal for the exploitation of their work. Early in their career, he may not have had great bargaining power,” Ostrow explained.

Basically, a creator can nullify a rights agreement after 35 years; then try to resell the rights for a newer, better deal. The Yonay family wants to renegotiate the Top Gun deal under the law. They are also within their legal rights to do so. Ostrow said that he believes the plaintiffs have a reasonable claim; but that since Top Gun: Maverick completed in 2019 (and was delayed due to COVID-19), Paramount could defend themselves adequately, as well. In all likelihood, the parties will settle the case out of court.