A former NBA union official is suing LeBron James, Drake, and Future for $10 million, claiming that they stole the “intellectual property rights” to a film about a Canadian hockey league for black players.
The complaint was submitted to the Manhattan state Supreme Court by Billy Hunter, a former federal prosecutor and current head of the NBA Players Association. According to a report in The New York Post, the plaintiff in the complaint claims he is the sole owner of the rights to make a film about the Colored Hockey League, which operated from 1895 until the 1930s.
Former NBPA head Billy Hunter filed the lawsuit against Lebron James, Drake, and Future and he's seeking a share of profit from the documentary plus $10 million in damages. pic.twitter.com/HWtnzFLntZ
— LakeShow (@LakeShowCP) September 6, 2022
“I don’t think they believed the property rights would be litigated,” Hunter told The Post. “They thought I would go away. They gambled.”
The film in dispute is a documentary called “Black Ice,” in which Hunter alleges he negotiated a $265,000 contract with the writers to hold the rights to adapt from their book detailing the history of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes.
The authors and defendants of “Black Ice,” George and Darril Fosty, are said to have made a secret agreement with James and Drake, according to TMZ.
“While the defendants LeBron James, Drake, and Maverick Carter [LeBron’s business partner] 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,” says the suit filed by Hunter’s attorney, Larry Hutcher.
As well as the writer’s book publisher Stryker Indigo and film production firm First Take Entertainment, the lawsuit names James’ entertainment businesses, The Springhill Company and Uninterrupted Canada, as defendants. Also named as defendants are Drake and Future’s entertainment company, Dreamcrew Entertainment.
The lawsuit claims that the defendants’ actions were deliberate and carried out with the objective of thwarting the plaintiff’s legal rights. According to the complaint, “the inflated price they paid for the duplicate option demonstrates that each of the Dreamcrew Defendants and Uninterrupted Defendants behaved maliciously.”
The complaint alleges that the Fostys “speculatively claimed,” that the film contract would not infringe on Hunter’s film rights or “exclusive worldwide license” because the project was classified as a documentary.
According to Hutcher, “any claim to the contrary is ludicrous and done in bad faith,” as a documentary is still considered a “motion picture” and an “audiovisual adaptation.”
Back in 2019, Hunter and the writers settled on an “option agreement” for a film adaptation, with Hunter paying the authors $10,000. Producers from First Entertainment approached the authors a year and a half later to make a documentary film based on Hunter.
According to the New York Post, spokespeople for James, Drake, the Fostys, and their respective firms had no comment at the time of publication.
The premiere of “Black Ice” has been set for September 10 at the Toronto Film Festival.