10 June 2022


In this issue of zoom-in brief, Paramount Pictures is sued for alleged copyright infringement over box office hit, Top Gun: Maverick; Mariah Carey faces a copyright infringement claim over festive anthem, All I Want for Christmas Is You; Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson’s misuse of private information action against Mirror Group Newspapers will proceed to trial; Van Morrison takes action against the Department of Health in Northern Ireland; whilst Johnny Depp is successful in his high profile defamation claim against Amber Heard.

Editorial credit: Cubankite/shutterstock.com
Editorial credit: Cubankite/shutterstock.com
Tom Cruise

Copyright – US – Top Gun studio sued over alleged copyright breach

The family of the writer whose article inspired the original 1986 Top Gun movie are suing film studio Paramount Pictures for copyright infringement over this year’s hit sequel, Top Gun: Maverick.

According to a complaint filed in the Los Angeles federal court on 6 June, the widow and son of Ehud Yonay, the Israeli writer of a 1983 article entitled Top Guns, claim that Paramount failed to reacquire the rights to the article from them before releasing the “derivative” sequel in May.

Shosh and Yuval Yonay, who live in Israel, claim that the Top Gun films would not have existed without Ehud Yonay’s “literary efforts and evocative prose and narrative”. They are seeking unspecified damages from the studio, including profits from Top Gun: Maverick. The family are also reportedly seeking to block distribution of the film, and any further sequels.

In a statement, Paramount described the claims as “without merit”, vowing to “vigorously” defend itself.

Directed by Joseph Kosinki, Top Gun: Maverick sees Tom Cruise reprise his role as US Navy fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell who is tasked with training a batch of elite pilots at the Top Gun flying academy for a daring raid on a nuclear enrichment plant.

The film has received strong reviews and been a box office hit, earning more than $548m (£438m) in its first 10 days and giving Cruise his first-ever $100m (£80m) box office opening weekend.

Ehud Yonay’s heirs are reportedly suing Paramount on the basis of a provision which allows authors to reclaim the rights to their work after a certain period – usually 35 years, claiming they told Paramount in 2018 that its rights to the article would end two years later, arguing that the studio lost the copyright in January 2020.

According to the reports, they allege that Paramount “consciously failed” to subsequently obtain a new copyright licence, and that in response to a May 2020 cease-and-desist letter Paramount denied that Top Gun: Maverick was based on Ehud Yonay’s 1983 article and contended that the film was “sufficiently completed” by the time the family procured the copyright.

Copyright – US – Mariah Carey in $20m lawsuit over All I Want for Christmas Is You

Singer Mariah Carey is being sued for alleged copyright infringement over her 1994 Christmas hit All I Want for Christmas Is You.

Carey, her co-writer Walter Afanasieff and record label Sony Music Entertainment have been named in a lawsuit brought by songwriter Andy Stone, who claims in legal documents filed in Louisiana that the 53-year-old US singer and her collaborators “knowingly, willfully, and intentionally engaged in a campaign” to infringe his copyright.

Carey’s song, which appeared on the Columbia Records-released album Merry Christmas, is one of the best-known Christmas tracks of all time. It reached number one in several countries, and has reportedly earned the singer tens of millions of dollars in royalties. The song has been streamed more than one billion times on Spotify.

Stone, who performs as Vince Vance in the New Orleans novelty band Vince Vance & The Valiants, says he co-wrote a song with the same name as Carey’s Christmas pop classic in 1989, five years before her song was released.

Stone is now seeking at least $20m (£16m) in damages. Although the two songs reportedly have different lyrics and melodies, he has accused Carey and her co-defendants of earning “undeserved profits” from his song, acting in a way that was “designed to exploit [its] popularity and unique style”, and committing “acts of unjust enrichment by the unauthorised appropriation of [his] work and the goodwill associated therewith”.

It is not clear why Stone is bringing his lawsuit now, nearly three decades after Carey’s song was first released. His complaint says that his lawyers contacted Carey and her collaborators last year, but that the parties were “unable to come to any agreement”.

In a 2020 memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, Carey recounted her process for All I Want for Christmas Is You, saying that the song was not originally inspired by Christmas.

“I actually did bang out most of the song on a cheap little Casio keyboard”, she recalls. “But it’s the feeling I wanted the song to capture. There’s a sweetness, a clarity, and a purity to it.”

With sales of more than 15 million copies worldwide, Carey’s Merry Christmas remains the best-selling US Christmas album of all time.

The singer has yet to comment on Stone’s legal challenge.

Privacy – UK – Ricky Tomlinson Mirror privacy claim to proceed

Actor and Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson’s misuse of private information claim, and privacy actions by other claimants, against MGN Ltd over alleged “unlawful information gathering” (‘UIG’) will be allowed to proceed to trial, the High Court has ruled.

Tomlinson is one of dozens of claimants in the managed ‘Mirror Newspapers Hacking Litigation’ whose action against MGN is currently headed for trial in May 2023. In January, MGN applied for an order for summary judgment in 23 of those claims on the basis that the claims were brought too late, an attempt to bring them to an end in MGN’s favour without trial.

In April, Mr Justice Fancourt heard applications in respect of six of the 23 claims, including Tomlinson’s, the idea being that the Court’s decision in relation to the six would enable the parties to agree on the fate of the remaining actions themselves. The other five applications concerned claims by actress Nikki Sanderson; Zoe Grace, a close friend of several high-profile individuals; Ingrid Dupre, the former wife of TV presenter Chris Tarrant; Fiona Wightman, the former wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse; and Paul Sculfor, a model. In addition to alleged UIG, the claims were brought over articles published in the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People.

In a judgment handed down on 27 May, Mr Justice Fancourt rejected MGN’s argument that the alleged UIG claims should be disposed of in MGN’s favour at the current stage because the claimants knew, or with reasonable diligence could have discovered, the information necessary to bring their claims within the permissible six-year window. The ruling means that these claims can continue to progress towards trial next year.

However, the Judge ruled that the claims for misuse of private information based on the actual publication of the articles in the MGN titles should not proceed, on the basis that here each claimant had known the essential facts required to bring their action in time.

In a witness statement Tomlinson reportedly said he only realised he might have a claim against MGN in or around 2019, when his Royle Family co-star Ralf Little mentioned it to him, and contended that “[i]f I had known for one minute that this was going on, I would not have waited this long to do something about it”.

Legal proceedings – UK – Van Morrison takes legal action against Northern Ireland health minister

Sir Van Morrison is taking legal action against the Department of Health in Northern Ireland and its health minister Robin Swann over an article written for Rolling Stone magazine.

In the opinion piece, first published in the US in September 2020, Mr Swann described anti-Covid lockdown songs written by Van Morrison and released that month as “dangerous” and a “smear” on those engaged in the public health response to the virus.

The Van Morrison songs contained lyrics that referenced scientists “making up crooked facts” to justify steps that “enslave” people, asserting that: “The new normal, is not normal. We were born to be free.”

Mr Swann said in the Rolling Stone article: “”We in Northern Ireland are very proud of the fact that one of the greatest music legends of the past 50 years comes from our part of the world. So there’s a real feeling of disappointment – we expected better from him. If you see it all as a big conspiracy, then you are less likely to follow the vital public health advice that keeps you and others safe.”

Swann also contended that Van Morrison’s words would bring “great comfort to the conspiracy theorists, the tin foil hat brigade who crusade against masks and vaccines and think this is all a huge global plot to remove freedoms.”

In a statement, Van Morrison’s spokesperson confirmed that the musician had issued legal proceedings against Mr Swann and the Department of Health as “co-publishers” of the Rolling Stone article. It is not clear what grounds he is relying on in his action.

The Department of Health told the BBC that it would not comment on active legal matters.

In November 2021, it emerged that Mr Swann had himself issued defamation proceedings against Van Morrison, after the singer chanted during a June 2021 dinner event at Belfast’s Europa Hotel that the minister was “very dangerous”.

Mr Swann’s claim is also understood to have been brought over two further incidents, involving Van Morrison’s comments to the press and in a video on his YouTube channel.

Commenting on the claim in November 2021, the musician’s solicitor said Van Morrison “asserts… that the words used by him related to a matter of public interest and constituted fair comment”.

Defamation – US - Depp succeeds in Heard lawsuit

The Circuit Court in Fairfax County, Virginia, has for 6 weeks been home to one of the most closely followed libel trials of the century.

Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife, Amber Heard, in respect of an Op-Ed she penned in 2018 which was published in The Washington Post (who is not a defendant). Under the headline “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath”, Heard wrote that she had become a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”

While Depp was not named in the article, he alleged that it referred to claims she made about him in their 2016 divorce. He sought $50m in damages.

Heard countersued in libel for $100m in respect of three statements made in 2020 by Depp’s former lawyer Adam Waldman to the Daily Mail, in which he said that Heard’s claims of abuse were a ‘hoax’.

The six-week trial has seen over 40 witnesses – from marriage counsellors, famous ex-partners and former staff – step into the witness box. A dedicated livestream enabled the proceedings to be broadcast around the world and has made celebrities of the attorneys. The footage has been meme-ified on Instagram, analysed on TikTok and supplemented by near-constant media reporting.

The jury retired on 27 May and on 1 June they returned their verdict – finding that the elements of defamation (which, unlike in the UK, requires actual malice) were made out in Depp’s claim. He was awarded $10m in compensatory damages and $5m in punitive damages (reduced to $350k by Judge Penney Azcarate in line with the state’s cap on punitive damages). Heard was awarded $2m after the jury found that Depp had defamed Heard on one count but she was not awarded punitive damages.

Depp did not appear in court to hear the verdict as he had embarked on a pre-arranged music tour with his friend, the guitarist Jeff Beck.

Following the verdict, Depp said in a statement: “Speaking the truth was something that I owed to my children and to all those who have remained steadfast in their support of me. I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that.”

Heard also released a statement, in which she said “The disappointment I feel today is beyond words. I’m heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband… I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women.” It is reported that Heard’s lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, has said her client will appeal the verdict.

This claim follows Depp’s 2020 libel claim in the UK, concerning an article published in the Sun which accused him of being a ‘wifebeater’. In that claim, Mr Justice Nicol found that 12 of 14 instances of abuse by Ms Heard were made out, and upheld the defence of truth.

Sheffield DocFest


Sheffield DocFest – the UK’s leading documentary festival and one of the world’s most influential markets for documentary projects – invites audiences and industry to ‘ReConnect’ with documentary – and each other – in Sheffield, 23-28 June.

Programme Highlights include:

  • 38 World Premieres, 22 International Premieres, 11 European Premieres in the film programme including new works by Emma Davie, Werner Herzog and Rodrigo Reyes.
  • 5 World Premieres, 6 International Premieres, 3 European Premieres in the Alternate Realities programme of technologically innovative non-fiction and immersive documentaries including new works by Jad Abumrad, Dries Depoorter and  Rachel Briscoe.
  • Headline talks from Guest Curator Asif Kapadia with editor Chris King; Brett Morgen (Moonage Daydream), Pratibha Parmar (My Name is Andrea) and David Olusoga: (StoryTrails)
  • Key Broadcaster talks include the BBC Interview: with the renowned journalist, newsreader and presenter; Clive Myrie; the Channel 4 Interview: with Will Young who will be discussing the recent documentary Losing My Twin Rupert;  and the ITV Interview: with the British Paralympian swimmer, Ellie Simmonds.

The three Special Programmes that headline this year’s selection are:

Ukraine. Password: Palianytsia

In solidarity with Ukraine, Sheffield DocFest collaborated with Docudays UA – the Ukraine’s leading international human rights documentary festival – to present Password: Palianytsia. This programme. will launch the British Council and Ukrainian Institute’s ‘UK/Ukraine Season of Culture.’ It provides a powerful encounter with contemporary Ukrainian life – including the horrific reality of the Russian invasion and the current war.

A Documentary Journey with Asif Kapadia

Sheffield DocFest’s 2022 Guest Curator, award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia, selects documentaries that had significant impact for him, inspiring his own style and creative choices. Highlights include Martin Scorsese’s Italianamerican, Jean Bach’s A Great Day in Harlem, and When We Were Kings – about the boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.

Co-Creation: Changing our World

Curated with Katerina Cizek at MIT’s Open Documentary Lab’s Co-Creation Studio, this programme illuminates the practice of making documentary work from within communities and making films with people, rather than for, or about, them. The programme pairs new projects with emblematic works from the past with highlights.

With an Industry Pass, enjoy the full festival programme of films, exhibitions, talks, panels, industry sessions and live pitches, networking events and parties. Industry Passes give access to an exciting line-up of Industry Programme activity including Marketplace and Industry Sessions, specially curated for documentary makers and producers. Whether you’re looking to connect with industry representatives from international festivals, markets and shorts platforms, find co-production partners or get expert advice on budgeting and legal matters, the Marketplace has it all.



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