Nike Asks Court to Nix Copyright Infringement Suit over ‘Jumpman’ Logo
Nike filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Jacobus Rentmeester, a photographer who shot a mid-air Michael Jordan in 1984, an image which allegedly became the Jumpman logo.
Rentmeester filed a suit in January 2015, alleging Nike misappropriated his work to create the famous “Jumpman” logo which is essentially a silhouette of Michael Jordan appearing to be in the process of a dunk. More specifically, Rentmeester claimed that Nike used his photograph of Jordan published in a 1984 issue of Life magazine. Rentmeester further alleged that he was inspired by a ballet pose called a ‘grand jete.’
In response to the allegations, Nike argued that Rentmeester’s photo and the Jumpman logo are not sufficiently similar to overcome the “virtually identical” threshold to find infringement. According to the court document by Nike, “Rentmeester falls far short of that standard here given the significant — and self-evident — differences in mood, lighting, setting, expression, color, style and overall look and feel of his photograph, on the one hand, and Nike’s photograph and logo on the other.” Further, Nike argued that a ballet pose itself cannot be copyrighted.
Rentmeester has made discovery demands encompassing any and all documents related to the logo and to Nike’s communication with Jordan since 1983. However, Nike has asked the court to delay Rentmeester’s “extensive and burdensome fishing trip” until a decision on its motion to dismiss comes out.
Rentmeester said that when he threatened to sue Nike back in 1985, it paid him $15,000 for “continued use of the [Jumpman logo at issue] in posters and billboards for North America only and for 2 years” with all other usage rights reserved.
Although Rentmeester brought this suit 28 years after the 2-year contract expired, the court is not likely to dismiss the case based on the delay under Peterlla v. MGM where the Supreme Court found a copyright claim is not time-barred so long as the copyright infringement continues.
Rentmeester seeks profits from the Jordan business back to 1987 when Nike began putting the logo on its shoes. The Jordan brand reportedly sold about $2.6 billion in the U.S. alone in 2014.