February 19, 2009 / 7:41 AM / 9 years ago

Legal battle erupts over film rights to Tupac's bio

<p>Rap music star Tupac Shakur is pictured in this file photo.Mike Segar</p>

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Film production company Morgan Creek is in a legal turf war with the estate of Tupac Shakur.

The Rick Nicita-topped production house has sued Amaru Entertainment, the company run by Afeni Shakur, the late rapper's mother and executor, alleging in a Los Angeles Superior Court filing that the company has backed out of an agreement to sell his life rights for a film adaptation.

Negotiations between Morgan Creek and Amaru began in November for life rights that would form the basis of the untitled project.

Life rights and collaboration with an executor are not always necessary with a public figure like Shakur, though they would be essential if the filmmakers hope to include music, as they would in this case.

According to the complaint, a written contract was in place for life rights, with Morgan Creek claiming that Amaru is "refus(ing) to honor and perform a contract of a production of the film based on the life of Tupac Shakur." The company seeks damages and other relief.

But late Wednesday, Amaru's lawyers denied the existence of a deal.

"There is no agreement with Morgan Creek, there never was, and there never will be," said Amaru attorney Skip Miller, adding that the court filing is an attempt to force his client's hand.

Miller said negotiations for a biopic on the controversial rapper were under way at several studios and that Morgan Creek attempted to sabotage those talks with threats of litigation. "They have scared away Paramount, Fox and others, and we are going to sue them and recover millions (in damages)," Miller said.

Morgan Creek and lawyer Patricia Glaser declined comment.

Those familiar with the case said that negotiations broke down in January, after Fox Searchlight released "Notorious," a biopic about Shakur rival Biggie Smalls. The movie underperformed at the box office

Shakur, who has sold more albums worldwide than any other hip-hop artist, led a colorful, made-for-Hollywood life. The New York-born, Oakland-raised rapper was a prolific artist at the dawn of the gangsta-rap era and was charged with and incarcerated for a number of crimes. He also sold millions of records based partly on his experiences, including chart-toppers "Me Against the World" and "All Eyez on Me," as well as several posthumously released albums.

Shakur died after a 1996 shooting that likely was the result of an East Coast-West Coast rap feud.

He acted in a number of Hollywood films, including the romantic drama "Poetic Justice" and the basketball drama "Above the Rim." His music has been used in countless pics, including "8 Mile," "Friday After Next" and "Blood Diamond."

Over the years a number of scripts have gone into development on the rapper's life, with none gaining traction. Sylvester Stallone was at one point developing a project about Shakur's death and the subsequent killing of Smalls, aka the Notorious B.I.G.

A documentary, "Tupac: Resurrection" -- in which Shakur's mother was involved as a producer -- made $8 million for Paramount in 2003.

Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters

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