Writer sues Tupac Shakur biopic for copyright infringement

Kevin Powell is suing the filmmakers behind All Eyez on Me, arguing the Tupac Shakur biopic pulls information from a series of articles he wrote about the late rapper in the 1990s.

In lawsuit against All Eyez on Me, Kevin Powell says he 'embellished' portions of stories on hip hop artist

In this Aug. 15, 1996, photo, the late rapper Tupac Shakur attends a voter registration event in South Central Los Angeles. Music writer Kevin Powell has filed an infringement lawsuit against the creators of the new Tupac Shakur biopic, claiming that portions of the film are based on his interviews with the late rapper. (Frank Wiese/The Associated Press)

New York-based writer Kevin Powell is suing the filmmakers behind All Eyez on Me, arguing the Tupac Shakur biopic pulls information from a series of articles he wrote about the late rapper in the 1990s.

And he should know — since he also admits that some of the details in his stories were, in fact, fabricated.

"While some of the content in these articles was factual, some portions of the article were changed or embellished by the plaintiff," states the lawsuit, which was filed Friday.

The claims

Powell alleges elements of the film were based on a series of three articles he wrote for Vibe magazine between 1994-96 about Shakur's life. Shakur, one of hip hop's most prolific artists, was killed in a Las Vegas drive-by shooting in September of 1996.

"After viewing the movie twice in the past few days, it is clear that my exclusive Vibe cover stories on Tupac Shakur (when he was alive), were lifted, without proper credit or compensation of any kind to me, and used in All Eyez on Me," Powell posted in a message on Facebook Friday.

According to the lawsuit, the film, released in North American theatres last week, features details about the rapper's relationships and struggles not depicted or published anywhere else.

That includes an epiphany Shakur had on stage in high school that Powell described in his writing and references in the film to a journalist who identified with the musician's personal issues.

Kevin Powell alleges the film All Eyez on Me copied portions of the articles he wrote on Tupac Shakur for Vibe magazine between 1994-96. (Facebook)

'Creative licence'

But the key allegation lies in a fictional character Powell wrote about in his articles named "Nigel," allegedly based on a real individual named Jacques "Haitian Jack" Agnant. The lawsuit claims All Eyez on Me features the character, as well as details of the character's relationship with Shakur that cannot be found anywhere else.

Keith White, one of Powell's lawyers, told CBC News in a statement that his client "took creative licence" but consistently covered Shakur's story with "integrity and dignity."

"This included fact-specific narrative changes and character creation in an effort to protect the legacy that Tupac was still building."

Copyright infringement in the U.S. protects "original works of authorship" and the law tends to promote creativity and individual expression. That might explain why Powell, a political activist who got his start on the MTV reality series The Real World in 1992, was forced to fess up to the fictional portions he included in order to substantiate his claim.

Powell's lawyers are demanding the film be pulled from theatres or that their client receive a cut of the earnings — between $750 and $30,000 US per showing.

"The narrative that Kevin developed from many intense and exclusive moments with Tupac should not have been used in any film without Kevin's approval and consultation," said White.

Not charming the critics

In addition to naming the film's producers and screenwriters in the suit, the document also names Lionsgate films, Morgan Creek Productions and Program Pictures. CBC has reached out to the companies. A representative for Lionsgate declined to provide a comment Saturday.

Shakur, whose hits included California Love, I Get Around and Changes, has been ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the greatest artists of all time. His background, artistry and rise to fame have been the subject of many documentaries but few dramatic films.

All Eyez On Me has so far brought in about $35 million US domestically. Critics have given it a low average rating of 22 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film has also taken heat from those close to Shakur, including actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who starred with him on an episode of the sitcom A Different World. She slammed the film's portrayal of their relationship on social media when the film was released, calling it "deeply hurtful."

With files from the Associated Press