Aalmuhammed was an expert on
Malcolm X. He was hired by Lee to be a consultant for a movie about
Aalmuhammed suggested script
revisions, offered direction to some actors, and helped with editing.
When the movie was released,
the credits listed Aalmuhammed as a technical consultant. He wanted to be
considered a co-author, so he sued.
Aalmuhammed argued that his
contributions to the film were significant enough to make the work a joint
The Trial Court found for Lee.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court looked
to 17 U.S.C. §101 and noted that
in order to be a co-author of a joint work, a person must "make an independently
copyrightable contribution" to the whole work.
The Court found that
Aalmuhammed's contributions to the work were enough to be independently copyrightable.
However, the Court found
that Aalmuhammed was not an author.
The Court looked to Burrow-Giles
Lithographic Co. v. Sarony (111
U.S. 53 (1884)), which held that an author (of a
photograph) is "the person who has superintended the arrangement, who
has actually formed the picture by putting the person in position, and
arranging the place where the people are to be - the man who is the
effective cause of that."
The Court found that Aalmuhammed
was not 'superintending' anything. He was working for Lee, the movie's
director. Lee controlled all aspects of the movie.
In addition, there was
never an intent on the part of Lee or the movie's producers to make
Aalmuhammed a co-author. It was
strictly work for hire.
The Court noted that even
Lee was under contract with the movie studio in a work for hire arrangement and so was not even an author himself. It would be absurd to find that
Aalmuhammed was author
when Lee was not.
The Court found that it was
good public policy to restrict the definition of author. Otherwise people like Lee would never
consult others because they'd be worried about losing control of the
rights. That would make the arts less accurate and interesting.