Firing their first shot on June 6, 2022, Shosh Yonay and Yuval Yonay, heirs of Ehud Yonay, took aim at Paramount by filing a complaint in Federal Court asserting that the movie Top Gun: Maverick, infringes upon a copyrighted story written by Ehud Yonay (“Story”). Shosh and Yuval claim that in May of 1983, Paramount obtained from Ehud, exclusive motion picture and allied rights – creation of merchandise or a television series – to the Story. Shosh and Yuval assert further that in January of 2018, they notified Paramount of their election to terminate those rights as of January of 2020.
On May 27, 2022, flying high over complaints from Shosh and Yuval and well after the termination date, Paramount released Top Gun: Maverick domestically bringing in over $120,000,000 during its opening weekend. Have Shosh and Yuval found their cash cow??
Do Shosh and Yuval have legal standing?
First, can Shosh and Yuval ‘elect to terminate’ rights in which they did not give? 17 U.S.C. § 203(a)(2)(A-B) states that in the case of any work other than a work made for hire, the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license of copyright or of any right under a copyright, executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978, otherwise than by will, is subject to termination under the following conditions:
[w]here an author is dead, his or her termination interest is owned, and may be exercised, as follows: [t]he widow or widower owns the author’s entire termination interest unless there are any surviving children or grandchildren of the author, in which case the widow or widower owns one-half of the author’s interest and [t]he author’s surviving children, and the surviving children of any dead child of the author, own the author’s entire termination interest unless there is a widow or widower, in which case the ownership of one-half of the author’s interest is divided among them.
This means that Congress provided copyright owners with the ability to recapture their works thus allowing the copyright owner to take actions such as renegotiating an agreement or creating their own works based on the original work.
Here, there is no indication that the work is for hire, the grant does not appear to be by will and allegedly occurred after 1977, plus Shosh is the widow and Yuval is the son of Ehud. It is clear that in this case, as the grant of rights occurred after 1977 and that Shosh and Yuval are widow and son, respectively, of Ehud, that they had the right to terminate the extension of rights to Paramount.