“Black Ice,” an upcoming documentary about the history of racially segregated hockey leagues, is premiering at the Toronto Film Festival this year, and counts among its producers such luminaries as LeBron James, Drake, and Future. But The New York Post reports that they’re facing a $10 million lawsuit from Billy Hunter, former federal prosecutor and longtime head of the NBA Players Association, who says the rights to make the documentary were rightfully his.
The suit alleges that Hunter held the exclusive rights to make a film based on the non-fiction book “Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895 to 1925” by George and Darril Fosty, who are also named as defendants in the suit. It goes on:
“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.”
Hunter says he paid $265,000 to the authors for the rights to their book, but that they turned around and signed another deal with James, Drake, Future, and the film’s other producers. When he confronted them, Hunter says they claimed that as a documentary, the “Black Ice” film doesn’t fall under the agreement they’d made, which they argued would apply to a dramatic feature film or TV series instead. In the suit, Hunter says he isn’t buying it:
“A documentary is still a ‘motion picture’ and an ‘audiovisual adaptation’ and any claim to the contrary is absurd and made in bad faith.”
Hunter considered the “Black Ice” movie to be a passion project of his, citing his long-time fascination with the book and its subject, and that when he refused to sell his rights to the story, the film’s producers went around him and made the movie in violation of those rights. In addition to $10 million in damages, he also wants a cut of the film’s profits.
None of the parties named in the suit have responded publicly to the lawsuit as of this writing.