LOS ANGELES (BLOOMBERG) - Paramount Pictures was accused in a lawsuit of releasing its blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick without securing a licence from the estate of the writer whose story inspired the original film about four decades ago.
The author's heirs claim the studio has been on notice since 2018 that its copyrights to the Top Gun franchise were terminated - and that it went ahead to release the sequel last month without permission.
"These claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously," Paramount said in a statement.
The lawsuit comes from Shosh Yonay and Yuval Yonay, the widow and son of Israeli writer Ehud Yonay, whose 1983 story was the basis of the original 1986 film Top Gun.
Ehud Yonay, who died at 71 in 2012, published Top Guns in April 1983 in an issue of California magazine and registered it in the United States Copyright Office later that year.
Soon after it was published, Paramount secured exclusive motion picture rights to the story, according to the complaint filed on Monday (June 6) in Los Angeles federal court.
But the Yonays claim that after sending Paramount a statutory notice of termination under the Copyright Act in 2018, they became the sole owners of the US copyright for the story in 2020.
They said they invoked a provision of the law that allows artists who transfer copyrights to reclaim those rights 35 years later.
The case was filed by Mr Marc Toberoff, an attorney who specialises in suing movie studios on behalf of artists and writers.
Mr Toberoff has represented legendary comic book artists in litigation with Walt Disney stemming from the media giant's acquisition of the Marvel super hero franchise in 2009.
Also on the Yonays' team is Mr Alex Kozinski, a prominent former judge on the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and known movie buff who has cultivated a copyright litigation speciality.
The Yonays allege that Paramount's response to their May cease-and-desist letter was "total denial of the fact that its 2022 sequel was obviously derivative of" Ehud Yonay's story.
Paramount claimed the movie was "sufficiently completed" before the effective termination date of its copyrights, according to the complaint.
Top Gun is a jewel in Paramount's portfolio of iconic intellectual property.
While the studio has had other number-one films in recent years, including instalments of Sonic The Hedgehog (2020 to present) and A Quiet Place (2018 to present), none have matched the box office performance of the Tom Cruise-led fighter pilot movie.
Top Gun: Maverick was Paramount's biggest box office opening since it had the rights to release Iron Man in 2010.
And the film has almost already made more in its first two weeks than any other movie the studio has distributed in the last decade, according to information from IMDbPro.