JEFRI AALMUHAMMED, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SPIKE LEE;
FORTY ACRES AND A MULE FILMWORKS, INC.; BY ANY
MEANS NECESSARY CINEMA, INC.; WARNER BROTHERS, a
division of Time-Warner Entertainment LP; VICTOR COMPANY
OF JAPAN LIMITED; LARGO INTERNATIONAL N.V.; LARGO
ENTERTAINMENT, INC.; JCV ENTERTAINMENT, INC., Defen-
202 F.3d 1227 (9
KLEINFELD, Circuit Judge:
This is a copyright case involving a claim of co-authorship of the movie
. We reject
the "joint work" claim but remand for further proceedings on a quantum meruit claim.
In 1991, Warner Brothers contracted with Spike Lee and his production companies to make the
, to be based on the book,
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
. Lee co-wrote the
screenplay, directed, and co-produced the movie, which starred Denzel Washington as Malcolm X.
Washington asked Jefri Aalmuhammed to assist him in his preparation for the starring role because
Aalmuhammed knew a great deal about Malcolm X and Islam. Aalmuhammed, a devout Muslim,
was particularly knowledgeable about the life of Malcolm X, having previously written, directed,
and produced a documentary film about Malcolm X.
Aalmuhammed joined Washington on the movie set. The movie was filmed in the New York
metropolitan area and Egypt. Aalmuhammed presented evidence that his involvement in making the
movie was very extensive. He reviewed the shooting script for Spike Lee and Denzel [*1230]
Washington and suggested extensive script revisions. Some of his script revisions were included in
the released version of the film; others were filmed but not included in the released version. Most of
the revisions Aalmuhammed made were to ensure the religious and historical accuracy and authen-
ticity of scenes depicting Malcolm X's religious conversion and pilgrimage to Mecca.
Aalmuhammed submitted evidence that he directed Denzel Washington and other actors while
on the set, created at least two entire scenes with new characters, translated Arabic into English for
subtitles, supplied his own voice for voice-overs, selected the proper prayers and religious practices
for the characters, and edited parts of the movie during post production. Washington testified in his
deposition that Aalmuhammed's contribution to the movie was "great" because he "helped to re-
write, to make more authentic." Once production ended, Aalmuhammed met with numerous Islamic
organizations to persuade them that the movie was an accurate depiction of Malcolm X's life.
Aalmuhammed never had a written contract with Warner Brothers, Lee, or Lee's production
companies, but he expected Lee to compensate him for his work. He did not intend to work and
bear his expenses in New York and Egypt gratuitously. Aalmuhammed ultimately received a check
for $25,000 from Lee, which he cashed, and a check for $100,000 from Washington, which he did
During the summer before