Top Gun: Maverick | Paramount wins copyright court case

Top Gun Maverick
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A court has ruled that Paramount Studios didn’t infringe any copyright laws when it made Top Gun: Maverick.

For the past two years, Paramount Studios has been embroiled in a legal case over Top Gun: Maverick. In 2022, the family of late journalist Ehud Yonay filed a lawsuit against the studio, alleging that it had broken copyright laws when it made the highwire action sequel.

In 1983, Paramount bought the rights to Yonay’s article Top Guns, originally published in California magazine (“At mach 2 and 40,000 feet over California, it’s always high noon…”). That feature formed the basis for director Tony Scott’s Top Gun, which helped turn Tom Cruise into a superstar in 1986.

Decades later, Paramount finally embarked on a sequel, but didn’t re-acquire the rights to Yonay’s article. Yonay’s family, who owned the rights after the author passed away in 2012, filed their suit in May 2022 – a matter of weeks before Top Gun: Maverick appeared in cinemas.

California judge Percy Anderson has ruled against the author’s estate, however, stating that because the source work was non-fiction, it wasn’t protected under copyright law. “To the extent Plaintiffs contend that the Works are similar because they depict or describe fighter pilots landing on an aircraft carrier,” Anderson wrote in his ruling (via Variety), “being shot down while flying, and carousing at a bar, those are unprotected facts, familiar stock scenes, or scènes à faire.”

Paramount, unsurprisingly, has stated that it’s “pleased” with the judge’s ruling. Yonay’s family has said that it plans to appeal the decision.

“Paramount’s actions speak much louder than its counsel’s words,” the family’s lawyer Marc Toberoff told Variety in an email. “In 1983, soon after Ehud Yonay’s cinematic Top Guns Story appeared in California Magazine, Paramount literally raced to lock up the Story’s copyright to the exclusion of other Studios… Yet once Yonay’s widow and son exercised the rights Congress gave them in the Copyright Act to reclaim the author’s captivating Story, Paramount hand-waived them away exclaiming ‘What copyright?’ It’s just not a good look.”

On a sidenote, there’s another person who seldom gets a mention when it comes to inspiring Top Gun: photographer Charles J Heatley III, whose stunning images of F-14s Tomcats in flight accompanied Yonay’s article. The late Tony Scott even credited Heatley’s photos as his “model and inspiration” for Top Gun's aerial photography; indeed, many of those images look like stills from Scott’s film.

As for the Top Gun franchise – it’s still ongoing. There’s reportedly a “wonderful idea” for a third film doing the rounds, but actually making it happen depends on Tom Cruise’s schedule.

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