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'Top Gun: Maverick' faces a copyright infringement lawsuit

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A member of my family has now seen "Top Gun: Maverick" twice. She wasn't alive for the release of the original "Top Gun," but went with a friend to the new one, then went with another friend. And along the way, the Tom Cruise sequel has now earned half a billion dollars. Now comes the question of who deserves a slice of the profit. A magazine story inspired the original "Top Gun," and the author's family is suing. Here's NPR's Joe Hernandez.

JOE HERNANDEZ, BYLINE: In 1983, Ehud Yonay wrote an article for California magazine called "Top Guns," a character-driven tale of two ambitious Navy fighter pilots. Paramount Pictures bought up the film rights, and three years later, in 1986, "Top Gun" came out. Now Yonay's family say they own the copyright to the story and that Paramount is infringing on it.

MARC TOBEROFF: They feel it's unfair. The family is the widow and son of the author, couldn't be nicer.

HERNANDEZ: That's Marc Toberoff, the family's attorney. He says the law allows creators to recover the copyright to their work after 35 years to...

TOBEROFF: Financially benefit from their creation, to participate in some meaningful way in the fruits of their labor.

HERNANDEZ: But the lawsuit claims Paramount didn't re-acquire the film rights to the story before releasing "Top Gun: Maverick."

TOBEROFF: They were silent. They did not even attempt, for any sum of money, to relicense the rights of the story.

HERNANDEZ: In a statement to NPR, Paramount said, quote, "these claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously." The studio also said in response to a cease-and-desist letter sent by the family that "Top Gun: Maverick" isn't obviously derivative of the magazine story and that the film was sufficiently completed before the copyright switched over. The Yonays dispute both of those claims. Which of those arguments will fly is now up to the court.

Joe Hernandez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joe Hernandez

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