By: Chloe Barrett
Billy Hunter, the former longtime head of the NBA Players Association and ex-federal prosecutor, is seeking at least $10 million in damages and a share of profits from a documentary executive produced by LeBron James and Drake. The lawsuit alleges that Hunter owned the exclusive worldwide rights to produce any audiovisual adaption of George and Darril Fosty’s book, Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925, and the documentary violated that right. The book provides the history of Canada’s Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, a segregated league for black players in Canada’s Maritime Provinces that existed from 1895 to the 1930s.
The documentary, Black Ice, shifts between present day and the League’s era to confront the enduring, systematic anti-Black racism in Canadian ice hockey. The film premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was honored with the People’s Choice Award for Documentaries. The director, Hubert Davis, acknowledged in promotional interviews that the film is based in part on George and Darril Fosty’s book.
On September 4, 2022, Hunter filed suit in a New York Supreme Court against nearly a dozen defendants, including the Fostys, LeBron James, and Drake. The complaint alleges tortious interference by Drake, LeBron, and their production partners for knowingly cutting a deal with the co-authors behind his back. Said authors, George and Darril Fosty, are also listed as defendants for breach of contract for allegedly selling the exclusive rights to Hunter while also working out a side deal with the Drake and LeBron team. Hunter also argues that the Frostys breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
The preliminary statement in Hunter’s claim begins, “[w]hile 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.”
According to the complaint, Hunter still had about six months left in his two-year option to purchase the exclusive rights to produce “‘any motion picture, television series’ or ‘other audiovisual adaption’” of the book when the Fostys asked him to sell to the defendants. He refused and instead extended his option until March 2022, paying the Fostys an additional $5,000, which they accepted.
In September 2021, Hunter learned that LeBron James, Drake, their production companies, and two other groups were partnering to create a documentary based on the Frostys’ book. Hunter sent the Fostys a notice of breach letter and later paid them $250,000 for the exclusive worldwide rights to their book, which they also accepted. In August of this year, Hunter learned through news reports that Defendants planned to premier a documentary based on the Fostys book at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
When Hunter reached out to the Fostys after learning of the slated documentary premier, the co-authors argued that because the accused work was a documentary, it was outside the scope of Hunter’s intellectual property rights. Essentially, they argued, a documentary is not a motion picture or other audiovisual adaption.
For his three-year option rights, Hunter allegedly paid a total of $15,000. On the other hand, according to the complaint, Drake and LeBron paid $100,000 for their two-year duplicate option. Hunter argues that defendants’ decision to overpay “for a sliver of the rights already sold to Plaintiff” demonstrates their malicious intent to induce the Fostys’ contract breach.
Scott Moore, the chief executive officer of two defendant production companies, First Take and Uninterrupted Canada, labeled the suit “ill-founded and unnecessary” and revealed that defendants intended to file a motion to dismiss.
For his part, Hunter remains optimistic about his chances in court: “I don’t think they believed the property rights would be litigated. They thought I would go away. They gambled.”
 Complaint at 6, 18, Hunter v. James Sr., No. 653214 (NY Sup. Ct. filed Sept. 4, 2022), https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/hunter-lebron-james-complaint-ny-supreme.pdf.
 Id. at 2.
 Id. at 5.
 Etan Vlessing, TIFF: Unmasking Hockey’s Troubled Racial History in ‘Black Ice’,Hollywood Reporter (Sept. 11, 2022), https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/tiff-unmasking-hockeys-troubled-racial-history-in-black-ice-1235205395/
 Andrew Jeffrey, TIFF ’22: “Black Ice,” “While We Watched” Among Award Winners, Realscreen (Sept. 19, 2022), https://realscreen.com/2022/09/19/tiff-22-black-ice-while-we-watched-among-award-winners/; Armen Zargarian, Exclusive: Oscar Nominated Director Hubert Davis Talks ‘Black Ice’—A Sports Documentary Premiering at TIFF and Executive Produced by Drake and LeBron James, 6ixbuzz (Aug. 19, 2022), https://6ix.buzz/exclusive-oscar-nominated-director-hubert-davis-talks-black-ice-a-sports-documentary-premiering-at-tiff-and-executive-produced-by-drake-and-lebron-james/
 Simon Houpt, Production Firm Behind Black Ice Documentary Calls for Dismissal of Lawsuit, Globe and Mail, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/article-production-firm-behind-black-ice-documentary-calls-for-dismissal-of-10/ (last updated Sept. 14, 2022); Zargarian, supra note 5.
 Complaint, supra note 1 at 1.
 Id. at 16.
 Id. at 12-14.
 Id. at 14.
 Complaint, supra note 1 at 2-3.
 Id. at 7-8.
 Id. at 8, 12.
 Id. at 8-9.
 Id. at 9-10.
 Id.at 10.
 Id. at 7-8.
 Id. at 16.
 Id. at 3, 17.
 Houpt, supra note 6.
 Lebron James, Rappers Drake and Future Named in $10M Lawsuit: Report, REUTERS (Sept. 6, 2022), https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/lebron-james-rappers-drake-future-named-10m-lawsuit-report-2022-09-06/.