MJ Continues Winning Ways: Judge Allows Jordan’s Likeness Suit to Continue

On Friday, June 5, an Illinois federal judge ruled that Michael Jordan can continue his right of publicity suit against Jewel Food Stores, Inc.  The lawsuit arose out of an ad featured in a special edition of Sports Illustrated following Jordan’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  The ad featured text that congratulated Jordan on his induction, a pair of basketball shoes portraying the iconic number 23 that Jordan wore during his playing days, and Jewel-Osco’s logo with the slogan “Good Things Are Just Around The Corner.”

Accordingly, Jordan brought suit alleging that Jewel had used his likeness without permission in the ad.  The grocer, in response, argued that Jordan had previously orally transferred his identity rights and that he had given his publicity rights to his loan-out company, a corporation that celebrities often use for tax and liability purposes.  Thus, Jewel argued, this would thereby make Jordan the wrong party to bring the suit under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act.

U.S. District Judge Gary S. Feinerman ultimately found that Jordan does in fact have a statutory right to bring suit, and that under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act, a written assignment would be required for transfer of identity rights.  However, he did note that the issue regarding the loan-out company, Jump 23 Inc., could arise again at trial, and as a result, he recommended that Jordan add Jump 23 as a plaintiff, explaining that it would simplify the trial and ultimately “counsel in favor of Jordan’s at least giving it a try.”

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