Chuck D Goes to Court Over Rights to Life Story

MANHATTAN (CN) – Chuck D, founder and leader of the rap group Public Enemy, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against documentary film producers to protect the rights to his life story.

Chuck D, whose real name is Carlton Ridenhour, filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court seeking a judge’s order to protect his life-story rights, which he claims were unscrupulously exploited by New York documentary maker Alt House Productions, without Chuck D’s attorneys involved.

According to the complaint, Alt House Productions intends to make a documentary about Chuck D’s pre-Public Enemy group, Spectrum City.

“Under the guidance of Def Jam Records, the politically-charged raps of plaintiff were fused with the music produced by Spectrum City, a Long Island sound system founded by Hank Shocklee and featuring Shocklee’s brother Keith and a rotating cast of MCs,” according to a history of the group outlined in the lawsuit.

Chuck D’s eight-page complaint seeks a judge’s declaration that Alt House Production’s June 2015 agreement and a 2016 amendment, which purportedly granted them exclusive rights to the Spectrum City story and included “some vague mention” of Chuck D’s life story rights, are invalid and unenforceable.

The Alt House agreement would exclusively commit Chuck D to that production for “on-camera talent in all forms of non-fiction/documentary audio-visual programming in any and all media,” according to the lawsuit, for a period of three years after the Spectrum City documentary’s premiere and no longer than five years from the June 2015 agreement.

According to the complaint, Chuck D received no compensation from Alt House Productions for signing the agreement, other than a promise of 5 percent of the Spectrum City documentary’s net proceeds to be split among all signatories.

The rapper claims the Alt House agreement is void because it was executed without a lawyer for Chuck D present.

The lawsuit mentions other companies interested in making a movie about the history of Public Enemy, including the story of Spectrum City in the overall timeline of Public Enemy, which was formed in 1982.

“Plaintiff has secured significant interest from third parties interested in producing a feature length, non-documentary, motion picture based upon the history of Public Enemy, which history may overlap with that of the group’s predecessor, Spectrum City,” the complaint states. “That interest has been hampered by defendant’s interpretation of the agreement and its amendment which, defendant claims, gives it exclusive rights to the Spectrum City story.”

Chuck D says Alt House’s claims to the rights for the Spectrum City story and his own life story has a “chilling effect” on his ability to be involved in the proposed Public Enemy movie.

Explosively political throughout the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush years, Public Enemy’s hits like “Fight the Power” and “Don’t Believe the Hype” continue to have new relevance in the era of Black Lives Matter and President Donald Trump.

Chuck D. was born in Queens, N.Y., and currently lives in Ventura, Calif. Last year, the 56-year rapper joined members of Rage Against the Machine and Cypress Hill to form the politically-charged rap/rock group Prophets of Rage.

Tuesday’s complaint refers to Alt House Productions as a joint venture of A Novel Production Company, Lunatics LLC and Samurai MK, based out of an office at Times Square.

Alt House could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Chuck D is represented by Stewart Levy of Eisenberg Tanchum & Levy in White Plains, N.Y.

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