Israeli Family Sues Paramount Over ‘Top Gun’ Copyright Violations

The widow and son of Ehud Yonay claim that the Hollywood studio violated copyright with the sequel ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman
Tom Cruise portraying Capt. Pete Maverick Mitchell in a scene from Top Gun: Maverick.
Tom Cruise portraying Capt. Pete Maverick Mitchell in a scene from Top Gun: Maverick.Credit: Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures via AP
Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman

The family of an Israeli man who wrote the article that served as the inspiration for the 1986 movie “Top Gun” filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures on Monday, claiming copyright infringement for the sequel “Top Gun: Maverick,” which came out earlier this year.

Ehud Yonay, born in 1940, moved to the United States after his military service in Israel. He became a senior writer for California Magazine, where he published the 1983 article “Top Guns,” which focuses on star pilot Yogi at a U.S. Air Force training base and inspired the film. According to the lawsuit filed in a Los Angeles federal court, Paramount failed to renew the rights to “Top Guns,” before releasing the sequel.

Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise in the original 'Top Gun.'

Yonay died of cancer in 2012. His widow Shosh and his son Yuval, who live in Israel, claim that Paramount ignored the fact that the copyright they had purchased for the production of the original movie had expired and reverted to the Yonay family, and accused the studio of “thumbing its nose” at federal copyright law. Paramount declined to respond.

According to the lawsuit, the family is seeking profits from “Top Gun: Maverick,” and to block Paramount from distributing the movie or further “Top Gun” sequels.

“Top Gun: Maverick” is this year’s biggest box office hit thus far, generating $291 million in North America and a further $261 million in the rest of the world. In total, the movie has grossed $557 million in the 10 days since its release.

Tom Cruise arrives at the premiere of 'Top Gun: Maverick' in London, Britain, in May.Credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS

The family’s attorney, Marc Toberoff, told Army Radio on Tuesday that the copyright purchased by Paramount Pictures from Ehud Yonay reverted to the family in January 2020. According to U.S. law, the copyright reverts back to its original owners after 35 years. The family had brought this up with Paramount, but the studios “simply ignored” them, Toberoff said.

Toberoff explained that the family waited until the movie had been released to file the lawsuit, as they wanted to see if it was based on Yonay’s article. After seeing the movie, they understood that this was indeed the case. “Yonay describes in his article how the two pilots he wrote about brought a brass bell from a flight somewhere and hung it above the bar. Whenever someone broke the house rules, the bell would be rung and that person had to pick up the tab for everyone’s drinks. This story doesn’t appear in the original movie but appears in the sequel. In other words, the movie’s creators returned to the article.”

The Hollywood news site, Deadline, quoted a spokesperson for Paramount as calling the claims “without merit.”

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