NBA superstar LeBron James and Grammy-winning rapper Drake, along with their respective media companies, are among the defendants listed in a lawsuit alleging their involvement in the improper acquisition of “intellectual property rights” to an upcoming documentary.
According to a report from the New York Post, former NBA players union head Billy Hunter and his attorney Larry Hutcher have filed a lawsuit in New York state Supreme Court over the rights to Black Ice, a film adaptation of the book, Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895 to 1925.
In the suit, Hunter, the National Basketball Players Association’s executive director from 1996 to 2013, says he holds exclusive rights to any film made about the CHL due to a deal he struck with the book’s authors, George and Darril Fosty, in March 2019. The deal included a $10,000 down payment and an “option agreement” for a movie adaptation. Hunter claims the Fostys later breached their contract in order to work out a side deal with James and Drake’s team; the suit also claims Hunter paid the authors a total of $265,000 for the movie rights, per the Post.
Black Ice is set to make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 10 and is executively produced by James and Drake, whose real name is Aubrey Graham, as well as James’s business partner Maverick Carter.
“While the defendants LeBron James, Drake and Maverick Carter are internationally known and renowned in their respective fields of basketball and music, it does not afford them the right to steal another’s intellectual property,” Hutcher said in the suit, per the Post.
In addition to James and Drake, Hunter also listed James’s companies, The Springhill Company and Uninterrupted Canada, plus Drake’s Dreamcrew Entertainment, a firm he co-founded with fellow rapper Future, as defendants. The Fostys and their publishing firm, Stryker Indigo, also have been named along with First Take Entertainment, a film production company that reportedly aided James and Springhill in acquiring the rights.
Per the Post, the suit alleges Hunter received a call from George Fosty in October 2020 after speaking with other producers in regard to outside interest in the movie rights, including First Take reps and Uninterrupted Canada leads Vinay Virmani and Scott Moore. At the time, Hunter, “unequivocally stated that this was a passion project of his, and he had no interest in selling his exclusive option or any portion of his rights,” according to the suit. But plans for the separate documentary moved forward.
The suit says Hunter and his lawyer later submitted a breach-of-contract letter to the defendants on Nov. 1, 2021, after learning of the movie and Drake’s involvement as an executive producer. Hutcher was then reportedly told by the Fostys that the “competing venture” did not violate his “exclusive worldwide license” or film rights because the “documentary” was different and did not violate the agreement, which Hutcher adamantly disagreed with.
“A documentary is still a ‘motion picture’ and an ‘audiovisual adaptation,’ and any claim to the contrary is absurd and made in bad faith,” Hutcher stated in the suit, per the Post.
The suit also claims Hunter paid the Fostys $250,000 in February 2022 to retain “exclusive worldwide rights” to any “audiovisual” adaptation of the Black Ice story. Meanwhile, James’s team reportedly offered the Fostys $100,000 to acquire the “already optioned” rights to produce a separate documentary and “agreed to pay the authors 3% of the total movie budget,” according to the Post.
“The Uninterrupted defendants [Team LeBron] paid those sums to induce the Authors to breach their Agreement with Plaintiff,” the suit alleges, per the Post.
As of Monday evening, neither James nor Drake has commented on the suit.
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