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Decades before Tom Cruise took to the skies as Maverick in 1986 hit Top Gun, real pilots were learning air combat tactics at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School just outside of San Diego. In 1996, the TOPGUN program became part of the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center and found a new home in the Nevada desert at NAS Fallon.
In June, Paramount was sued by the heirs to Ehud Yonay, the author of a 1983 California Magazine story entitled “Top Guns.” Shosh and Yuval Yonay claim the original movie was based on the article, and they’ve reclaimed the rights in the work under advantage of a provision in U.S. copyright law that allows authors to terminate licenses after waiting a period of time, typically 35 years. The Yonays claim the rights to the story reverted back to them in January 2020 after they sent Paramount a termination notice, but the studio ignored it and made the sequel without securing a new license.
Paramount on Friday filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the article at issue is a nonfiction piece and shares no similarity with the “narrative action movie about a fictional veteran pilot, Maverick, who returns to Top Gun to train graduates — including one who blames Maverick for his father’s death — for an attack on an enemy installation” other than the real U.S. Navy program they’re centered upon.
The studio’s attorney Molly Lens argues that facts aren’t protectable, and neither are ideas or common tropes. She notes that neither Maverick nor the article were attached to the complaint, and requested judicial notice of both.
“When the Court reviews the article and Maverick, as opposed to Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and misleading purported comparison of the works, it is clear as a matter of law that Maverick does not borrow any of the article’s protected expression,” writes Lens in the motion, which is embedded below. “To the contrary, any similarity between these vastly different works derives from the fact that Top Gun is an actual naval training facility. Plaintiffs do not have a monopoly over works about Top Gun.”
Lens argues alleged generic plot similarities — like risky aerial maneuvers and pilots using call signs — should be filtered out even if they weren’t factual. She also rips “nonsensical” comparisons between the fictional characters and two real-life TOPGUN pilots — including one involving a character (Goose) who isn’t in the sequel. Though, even if he were, Lens argues both men being married, having a mustache and being friends with their pilot aren’t enough to support a claim.
A hearing is currently set for Sept. 26.
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