Top Gun Copyright Case Dismissed

On Behalf of | Apr 23, 2024 | Copyright Law |

On April 8, Paramount Pictures succeeded in having a lawsuit dismissed involving the 2022 hit movie Top Gun: Maverick. The plaintiffs alleged that the new movie borrowed excessively from a 1983 magazine article that had sparked the original “Top Gun” movie. Judge Percy Anderson of Los Angeles issued a 14-page ruling that the sequel did not show “substantial similarity” to Ehud Yonay’s original article “Top Guns,” which appeared in California Magazine. The article detailed the lives of pilots at the U.S. Navy’s elite fighter pilot school in San Diego, which is the basis of the original and sequel.

Top Gun: Maverick sees Tom Cruise returning as the iconic U.S. Navy test pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and has amassed a staggering $1.5 billion globally, marking it as Cruise’s most successful film to date and placing it among the highest-grossing films ever.

A foundation for a billion dollar franchise?

The late Yonay’s widow, Shosh Yonay, and his son, Yuval Yonay, having licensed Paramount to the article in order to produce the original movie, filed the lawsuit, claiming they were entitled to a share of the profits from the sequel. They argued that the original article was the foundation upon which Paramount built a billion-dollar franchise, bringing the everyday operations of a navy base to life. Despite the court’s decision, the Yonays plan to appeal. This firm is not associated with the case.

The plaintiffs argued that Yonay’s writing infused the facts with vivid imagery and cinematic touches, claiming that the author’s creative expression is entitled to copyright protection. The plaintiffs also argue that the judge was too casual in dismissing the Yonays’ copyright claims.

Copyright law does not protect factual details

The plaintiffs contended that the character “Maverick” and the sequel’s narrative were “derivative” of the original “Top Guns” article, citing similarities in plot, characters, dialogue, settings, and themes.

Still, the judge noted that copyright law does not cover factual details such as real-life identities portrayed in “Top Guns,” nor does it cover routine plot elements like pilots undertaking missions or socializing at a bar. The judge also dismissed the claim that themes like “the sheer love of flying,” or the shared dialogue “Fight’s on,” could constitute substantial similarities. Judge Anderson concluded that no reasonable jury could find a significant likeness in ideas and expressions between the two works, leading to the lawsuit’s dismissal.

What infringement looks like

Generally speaking, significant likeness in ideas and expressions between two works refers to an instance where a newer work closely resembles the content or form of an older, copyrighted work in a way that a typical person would recognize the newer work as having been derived from the original. It can involve copying the specific way ideas are expressed, such as the language, sequence, structure, or even the overall feel of the original work.

To be considered copyright infringement, the copying must be substantial and material, meaning someone copied the core elements protected by copyright and original to the author. It’s not enough for two works to have similar ideas or concepts — the expression of those ideas must be substantially similar.

Those with their own copyright issues or concerns can contact the firm to schedule a consultation.