Did They Make 'Top Gun: Maverick' without Securing the IP?

'Top Gun: Maverick'Credit: Paramount Pictures
Copyrights are a complicated business. 

The unmitigated box office success of Top Gun: Maverick is one of the best stories of the year. The movie has crossed $300 million domestically and has driven people back to the theaters. Insiders are talking about whether or not it could even receive Oscar nominations.

But behind closed doors, a legal case is mounting. One that is actually very interesting. You see, the first Top Gun was based on a 1983 magazine article by the late Ehud Yonay. The rights were secured to make the movie. But after a 30-plus-year hiatus between the first movie and its sequel, Yonay’s heirs filed for termination rights. This happened just before Maverick's production. So Yonay’s heirs claim Top Gun: Maverick was made without securing the rights to the story that inspired it. 

Did you follow all that? It's a little complicated, and lawyers are trying to sort out exactly what it means right now. 

Movies and IP

Let's lay out some legal jargon now. First, the biggest thing you have to understand is that an idea is not copyrightable, meaning no one owns, for example, the idea of a movie about fighter pilots. But someone can own an article about a flight school for the nation's top pilots, which is intellectual property. That article and the specific movie made after will then be intertwined. 

In 1983, Yonay wrote an article called “Top Guns,” in California magazine. That article was bought by Paramount and turned into the movie Top Gun. Yonay even received a writing credit for the article on the original film, with a screenplay by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.

Yonay has since passed, but his heirs are suing Paramount, which allegedly lost the rights on the article and then proceeded to make a sequel to the movie. They claim that since the rights were terminated before Maverick shot, they owned the sequel rights to the movie, not Paramount. And since no one paid them to make this movie, they're suing. 

This is a sticky situation with no clear answer. The best guess is that this case will settle out of court, but it is still a complicated affair. Entertainment lawyers looking at the case can see both sides. The main question is if the sequel is based on the first movie, does it owe anything to the article? Sure, the first movie can pull from the article, but the sequel just takes the ideas for the story (which are not copyrightable) and updates them into a story that's completely different, outside of some character crossover. 

We'll keep you updated as answers come. Let us know your thoughts in the comments. And we'd love to hear from some lawyers on this!      

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Your Comment


Good, I hope the family takes them for millions. Not because I think they are right and paramount are wrong or anything, it's just that no one of importance will be hurt by paramount losing a few million. This industry has WAY too much money and it never flows in the right direction.

June 8, 2022 at 2:12PM, Edited June 8, 2:12PM


So, you're not interested in justice, merely punishment?

June 9, 2022 at 9:24PM

David Patrick Raines

Paramount will only use that money to further themselves, the money will help more people in this world in the hands of the family.

How is taking money away from billionaires not justice??

June 10, 2022 at 10:56AM


I'm no fan of billionaires but are we now declaring them ALL evil (and thus open-season!) while we currently work our way through our own sad and western styled Cultural Revolution-Devolution..... to sadly reset our reality.... for less unfortunately (and for the environment apparently too!)

.......and sadly via angry and easily-led people who aren't even wearing a brown or red shirt.... while claiming to 'help more people in the world' but with NO context outside of an easily-led nice-sentiment strangely not further elaborated on (or explored) while a creepy type of self-justified, self-righteousness now so dominates our latest style of justifiably-angered but unfortunate devolved-thinking!

June 11, 2022 at 3:43PM, Edited June 11, 3:59PM


It's not an industry it's a Mafia styled Ponzi scheme revolving around and grifting off distractive entertainment...... in the hopes of 'contenting' folks!

Pretty much the entire industry is unionised.....yet is STILL strangely one of the most exploitative industries operating (my friends in REAL industries are always pretty horrified by my stories of 'fun' in the entertainment sector!)

It all flows in the right direction...... according to the studios and unions!

June 11, 2022 at 4:05PM


I wonder how, or if, the original agreement between Paramount and the writer dealt with a potential sequel?

This dispute is complicated by the fact that TGM is something of a hybrid between a sequel and a remake. Whole sequences from the first movie are essentially repeated. Character archetypes from the first movie are also repeated. Instead of Ice Man we get Hang Man. Instead of Goose we get Rooster (dressed exactly as his father, playing the exact same tune on the bar piano as his father).

June 9, 2022 at 10:05AM


If you're not Paramount.......it IS actually a sequel, why do you think folks got excited for it? (Tom doing his own stunts only goes so far!)

I understand trying to see both sides but you don't have to go so far into Jedi hand wave territory..... and a movie title doesn't need a 2 to make it a sequel (which is probably part of the reason they called this Maverick, alongside Tom's ego!)

June 11, 2022 at 3:49PM


I handle rights for unscripted where it’s even more complicated and these folks will be lucky to get any money. They have to try, of course, but this is dead in the water. Happy to explain the hundreds of holes but basically the article only outlines what the school was in the 80’s and this story has progressed well beyond that initial trope/concept and it’s embedded in popular culture in a way that is beyond the scope of the article. Paramount could argue that it’s a movie inspired by the first movie (which it is), something it’s their property they already paid the deceased writer for, and be done with this. Particularly when the end credits also has a legal disclaimer to address such technicalities. Heck, anyone of us can go and make a “top gun” movie without having to speak to this writer’s estate or paramount as long as our story is removed from the article and Paramounts storyline. All you gotta do is call the navy media relations office and develop an idea based on the school, not the movie or the article. Paramount’s legal didn’t overlook this, believe me. these folks will get a humble six figure settlement offer and a giant list of reasons why their argument is outdated and stuck in the 80’s like the original agreement their relative probably signed.

June 10, 2022 at 6:31AM


Stuck in the 80's?.......old agreement aren't negated by the new unless you want them to be....(and are perhaps apathetic enough to just accept the continual devolution!)

I think they'll be happy with their six figure settlement.......which they HAD to strangely fight for while we're all our own worst enemy as we apathetically still hope to make our way in the ever narrowing corridor!

Continually coming up with NEW ideas and properties instead strangely avoids these type of cat's-bum fights!

June 11, 2022 at 3:39PM


The wonder of copyright......to shaft families or to gimp industries like RED!

It was once about protecting the things that lead to innovation but is now just yet another passive-regressive way to power leverage!

The awfulness of wars can be sadly sometimes be better, things might become resolved rather than the world just continually devolving into a passive-regressive cult dismissing one another out of convenient self-convenience!

Sorry Paramount, Maverick is a sequel to an article you once licensed even if your lawyers might have thought that they'd perfected that dubious but effective Jedi hand wave!

June 11, 2022 at 3:32PM