Patent Poetry: Heirs of ‘Top Gun’ Magazine Article Author Sue for Copyright Infringement | AEON Law
Paramount is being sued
For copyright infringement
As Top Gun: Maverick pass Doctor Strange 2 become the highest grossing movie in the United States this year, the heirs of the author of the article that inspired the original 1986 Tom Cruise film were sued for copyright infringement.
As NPR reported,
In 1983, Ehud Yonay wrote an article for California magazine titled “Top Guns”, a character-driven story of two ambitious Navy fighter pilots. Paramount Pictures bought the film rights and three years later, in 1986, “Top Gun” was released. Now Yonay’s family says they own the copyright to the story and that Paramount is infringing it.
As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts the life of the author plus another 70 years. Thus, the heirs of the author, as well as the original author, can claim infringement and seek royalties for the use of copyrighted material.
Yonay passed away in 2012, and the claim is made by his widow and son. They filed a notice in 2018 claiming copyright to the article that was sold to Paramount, and it took effect in 2020.
As Variety Remarks,
“Top Gun: Maverick” went into production in May 2018 and was originally slated to be released in July 2019. The film was delayed for a year, to June 2020, to allow more time to work on the flight sequences, then was delayed for another two years due to the pandemic. The lawsuit argues that the film was not actually completed until May 2021, more than a year after the termination notice went into effect.
The case will involve several issues, including the little-known doctrine of copyright reversion or termination.
Under 17 USC § 203(a)(3),
In the case of any work other than a work made on behalf of others, the exclusive or non-exclusive grant of transfer or license of copyright or any right under a copyright author, executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978, other than by will, is subject to termination under the following conditions:
Termination of the grant may take place at any time during a period of five years beginning after thirty-five years from the date of execution of the grant; or, if the grant relates to the right of publication of the work, the period begins after thirty-five years from the date of publication of the work under the grant or after forty years from the date the grant is executed, whichever term ends first.
A major issue is whether the new Superior gun film really infringes the copyright of the author in the article, which was factual.
As TechDirt points out,
You cannot copyright facts. And most movies based on magazine articles don’t copy any of the copyrighted prose of the article. And so “film rights” are really just a kind of insurance policy. It tends to do two things: (1) keep the author of the original article from saying how unfair this whole thing is, and (2) maybe, but not always, get the writer to at least help a little about the history of the film. to make sure it makes sense. And that’s all. There’s not a whole lot of actual “rights” involved, as movies rarely have much to do with actual copyrighted material.
And, indeed, that seems to be the case with the “Top Guns” story, which was not about Maverick and Goose, but as the complaint itself points out, two real pilots with entirely different nicknames.
According to NRP,
Paramount said, in quotes, “these claims are baseless, and we will vigorously defend ourselves.” The studio also said in response to a cease and desist letter sent by the family that “Top Gun: Maverick” is obviously not derived from the magazine’s story and that the film was sufficiently completed before the change. of copyright. The Yonays dispute both of these allegations. Which of these arguments will fly is now up to the court.
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