I Feel the Need, the Need for Punitive Damages

In the spring of 1986, I was 13 years old and finishing up 7th grade. On May 16, ‘Top Gun’ was released, and my buddies and I saw it at the mall. I still vividly remember feeling the vibrations in the speakers from the sounds of the jets, and the surround-sound made it feel like they were actually flying in the theater.

‘Top Gun’ was the quintessential ‘80s movie – it had tons of action, a little humor, a sprinkle of romance, some tragedy, and, of course, triumph. Oh, and an unbelievable soundtrack.

Thirty-six years later, Tom Cruise is back on the big screen as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the long-awaited sequel, ‘Top Gun: Maverick.’ Just like its predecessor, the second installment is raking in the cash in the box office and is purportedly a “must-see” on the big screen.

However, it looks like Paramount Pictures, the studio behind the movie, is about to get into a nasty dog fight in court over the rights to the franchise.

The original film is actually based on an article that appeared in ‘California’ magazine in 1983 entitled ‘Top Guns,’ written by Ehud Yonay. The article chronicled the exploits of two young naval fighter pilots. Paramount secured the exclusive motion picture rights to Yonay’s copyrighted story, and then released its blockbuster three years later.

Under the federal Copyright Act, an author that granted rights to a work can terminate that grant, either themselves or through their heirs, starting at the end of the 35th year of the date of the grant. The rights to ‘Top Guns’ were purportedly up for termination on January 24, 2020.

So, Shosh and Yuval Yonay, heirs to Ehud Yonay, claim that they sent a notice to Paramount in January of 2018, that they would reclaim the copyright to the article in January of 2020. “Maverick” started shooting in May of 2018. While it was originally slated to be released in 2019, production delays caused the date to be pushed back. Then COVID hit, causing production to be halted numerous times and the film didn’t wrap until May of 2021.

As a result, the Yonays filed suit in federal court in Los Angeles against Paramount for copyright infringement, claiming the studio consciously failed to “re-acquire the requisite film and ancillary rights to the Yonays’ copyrighted story prior to the completion and release of their derivative 2022 Sequel.”

The lawsuit seeks to block the studio from distributing the movie or making further sequels. The Yonays, who are Israeli citizens, are requesting unspecified damages, “including pre-judgment interest they sustained and will sustain, and any income, gains, profits, and advantages obtained by Paramount as a result of its wrongful acts alleged” as outlined in the document, as well as “maximum statutory damages recoverable” and their attorneys’ fees.

A part of their damages would be profits from ‘Maverick, which could be substantial – as of writing this article, the movie is well on its way to generating a billion dollars worldwide.

Paramount released a statement asserting, “these claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously.” They will likely argue the case should be shot down because of the technical requirements of the Copyright Act, which requires copyrights to be registered to file a claim for infringement. While the complaint cites registration No. TX0001213463, the claimant on that registration is actually “California Magazine, Inc.” – not Yonay. The copyright is for a “serial publication,” not his original story.

Apparently, Miles Teller stars as Goose’s son, Rooster, in ‘Maverick.’ While I like Miles Teller, Goose’s son clearly should have been played by Ryan Gosling.

The following two tabs change content below.

Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

Latest posts by Reg P. Wydeven (see all)