Lawsuit Seeks to Ground ‘Top Gun’ Sequel
Paramount Pictures is faced with a lawsuit that demands more litigation communications than it’s engaged in so far. To give a hint of the lackluster effort to date, its statement includes the word “vigorously.” And yet, the legal action threatens to jolt the company’s reputation and really does call for a full response — or explanation.
The suit, filed June 6 in federal court in Los Angeles, alleges that Paramount didn’t have copyright clearance to release its long-awaited sequel film Top Gun: Maverick. The flick, starring (as in the original) Tom Cruise, opened in theaters May 27 and is currently top-ranking, taking in $300 million at U.S. box offices alone, according to Variety.
But the family of Ehud Yonay, who wrote the 1983 California magazine story about U.S. Navy pilots that inspired the original 1986 film, claims the copyright reverted to them in January 2020. Paramount ignored that regarding the sequel, they say in their complaint.
“This case arises out of Paramount’s conscious failure 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,” lawyers for Ehud Yonay’s widow and son write in the complaint.
The sequel was supposed to be released in 2019 but was delayed, partly due to Covid-19. The Yonays say production wasn’t completed until May 2021.
So what happened here? Did Paramount, which we’re willing to believe employs a few lawyers, let this one slip through the cracks? The answer goes to the confidence various audiences — moviegoers, vendors and especially shareholders in parent company Paramount Global — will have.
The suit is new and obviously Paramount is concerned about admitting liability, but eventually it will have to publicly explain itself. Here’s the only Paramount response we’ve seen so far: “These claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously.” It could have been typed out by a cat pawing at an iPhone.
Yet, the legal and reputational threats are real. One of the Yonays’ attorneys is Marc Toberoff, a high-profile copyright lawyer who also represents “comic book heirs looking to terminate Disney’s full right to Marvel characters,” according to reporter Eriq Gardner of Puck. Another is Alex Kozinski, the former 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge (who resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct).
Paramount needs a story arc that moves it from communications gun-shyness to top gun.
Photo Credit: Skydance Media
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter on crisis communications. Each week we highlight a crisis story in the news or a survey or study with an eye toward the type of best practices and strategies you can put to work each day. Click here to subscribe.