LeBron James and Drake Slip on “Black Ice” and Land in a $10 Million Lawsuit

[1]

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and world-renown rapper Drake are accused in a new $10 million lawsuit of stealing the intellectual property rights to a documentary film — “Black Ice” — about the old, segregated Canadian hockey league for black players.[2]

This past week, Billy Hunter, former longtime head of the NBA Players Association, filed a civil lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan alleging that he holds the exclusive legal rights to produce any film about the Colored Hockey League that existed in Canada from 1895 to the 1930s.[3] In the lawsuit, Hunter accuses LeBron, Drake, and their entertainment companies of cutting a deal behind his back with the authors of the critically acclaimed book that the documentary is based on — “Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895 to 1925.”[4]

“While the defendants LeBron James [and] Drake . . . 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 lawsuit filed by Hunter’s attorney, Larry Hutcher.[5] “I don’t think they believed the property rights would be litigated. They thought I would go away. They gambled,” said Hunter.[6]

The authors, George and Darril Fosty, are also listed as defendants, citing breach of contract for allegedly violating their agreement with Hunter that gave him the exclusive rights to produce any film on the Colored Hockey League.[7]

Hunter and the Fostys originally entered into an “option agreement” for an audiovisual adaptation of the “Black Ice” story in March 2019.[8] “The agreement granted Hunter an option to purchase the worldwide and exclusive license to develop and produce, among other things, any ‘motion picture, television series’ or ‘other audiovisual adaptation,’“ the lawsuit states.[9] Hunter paid $10,000 for the two-year rights.[10]

In October 2020, Hunter received a phone call from George Fosty, who told him the authors had been approached by other producers who wanted to do a documentary based on the “Black Ice” book — Vinay Virmani and Scott Moore of First Entertainment.[11] The First Entertainment representatives said they were working with LeBron and his entertainment companies to obtain the rights to produce a “Black Ice” documentary and had received partial financing from the Canadian Film Fund for the project.[12] But Hunter, a longtime civil rights activist, “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 lawsuit.[13]

Hunter then extended his two-year agreement with the authors for a third year through March 2022 for an additional $5,000.[14] Then, on November 1, 2021, after seeing news in the Canadian press that Drake would be the executive producer of the “Black Ice” documentary, Hunter, through his lawyer, sent a breach-of-contract letter to the defendants.[15]

In February 2022, Hunter exercised his option under the original agreement to “own the exclusive, worldwide rights to any audiovisual adaptations” of the “Black Ice” story by paying the Fostys another $250,000.[16]

In August 2022, after seeing news about the scheduled debut of the “Black Ice” documentary, Hunter confronted the authors.[17] According to the lawsuit, the Fostys acknowledge that Hunter owned the movie rights, but argue that the “Black Ice” documentary was a “competing venture” that did not violate his “exclusive, worldwide license” or film rights because the “documentary” was purportedly “outside the scope of the agreement.”[18] “That self-serving interpretation of the agreement is not only clearly wrong but the mere assertion was made in bad faith as the agreement absolutely covers the exclusive, worldwide right ‘to develop and produce,’ among other things, any ‘motion picture’ or all ‘audiovisual adaptations’ of the property, including documentaries,” the lawsuit states.[19]

In conclusion, the lawsuit accuses the Fostys and their publishing firm of breach of contract and LeBron, Drake, and their respective entertainment companies of “tortious interference.”[20] The lawsuit claims that LeBron and his entertainment companies offered the Fostys $100,000 to acquire the “already optioned” rights to produce a documentary about the “Black Ice” story and agreed to pay the authors 3% of the total movie budget “to induce the authors to breach their agreement with [Hunter].”[21] The lawsuit said LeBron and his entertainment companies then sought the backing of additional investors, specifically Drake and his entertainment company.[22] The lawsuit states that LeBron, Drake, and their respective entertainment companies’ actions were and are “intentional and carried out for the purpose of disrupting [Hunter’s] legal rights,” and that they “acted with malice as demonstrated by the inflated price they paid for the duplicate option.”[23]

The documentary, directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Hubert Davis, is scheduled to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival this upcoming Saturday, September 10.[24] Hunter isn’t seeking an injunction to halt the release and distribution of “Black Ice,” but rather a cut of the documentary’s revenues as well as “no less than $10,000,000, plus interest,” according to the lawsuit.[25] The documentary comes at a time when North American hockey, at all levels, is still dealing with unresolved race and diversity issues.[26]


[1] Photograph curtsey of https://www.basketballinsiders.com/news/lebron-james-drake-sued-for-10m-over-black-ice-documentary/.

[2] https://nypost.com/2022/09/05/lebron-james-drake-sued-over-hockey-film-black-ice-rights/

[3] Id.

[4] LeBron’s entertainment companies include The Springhill Company and Uninterrupted Canada. Drake’s entertainment company, DreamCrew Entertainment, is a co-venture with Future. Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] The Fostys’ publishing firm, Stryker Indigo, is also listed as a defendant. Id.

[8] Id.

[9] https://frontofficesports.com/lebron-james-drake-defendants-in-10m-documentary-lawsuit/

[10] Id.

[11] https://nypost.com/2022/09/05/lebron-james-drake-sued-over-hockey-film-black-ice-rights/. Producers Vinay Virmani and Scott Moore along with their film production company, First Take Entertainment, are also listed as defendants. See https://frontofficesports.com/lebron-james-drake-defendants-in-10m-documentary-lawsuit/.

[12] https://nypost.com/2022/09/05/lebron-james-drake-sued-over-hockey-film-black-ice-rights/

[13] Id.

[14] https://frontofficesports.com/lebron-james-drake-defendants-in-10m-documentary-lawsuit/

[15] https://nypost.com/2022/09/05/lebron-james-drake-sued-over-hockey-film-black-ice-rights/

[16] Id.

[17] https://frontofficesports.com/lebron-james-drake-defendants-in-10m-documentary-lawsuit/

[18] https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/lakers-lebron-james-rapper-drake-sued-for-10m-over-rights-to-black-ice-hockey-documentary-per-report/

[19] https://frontofficesports.com/lebron-james-drake-defendants-in-10m-documentary-lawsuit/

[20] https://nypost.com/2022/09/05/lebron-james-drake-sued-over-hockey-film-black-ice-rights/

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] https://frontofficesports.com/lebron-james-drake-defendants-in-10m-documentary-lawsuit/

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

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