Aalmuhammed v. Lee
202 F3d 1227 (9th Cir. 1999)

  • Aalmuhammed was an expert on Malcolm X. He was hired by Lee to be a consultant for a movie about Malcolm X.
    • 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 work.
  • The Trial Court found for Lee. Aalmuhammed appealed.
  • 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.