Nike Files Opening Brief in Ninth Circuit “Jumpman” Appeal

On Friday, November 27, 2015, Nike filed its brief urging the Ninth Circuit to uphold the dismissal of allegations that Nike Inc.’s “Jumpman” logo was an improper reproduction of a picture taken of Michael Jordan by plaintiff photographer.

The plaintiff photographer, Jacobus Rentmeester, originally took his photograph of Michael Jordan in 1984, and sold it to LIFE Magazine. At the photo-shoot, he captured one of the most well-known pictures of Jordan. He alleges that Nike paid $150 for the use of the negatives from that shoot and an additional $15,000 for a limited license to use the image for two years. That image, he alleges, then became the famous “Jumpman” logo used in a variety of Nike products in their “Air Jordan” line.

In December of 2014, Rentmeester registered his photograph with the US Copyright Office. A month later, Rentmeester filed suit for copyright infringement in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, seeking profits associated with sales of Jordan brand-related goods. The case was promptly dismissed, however, by District Judge Michael W. Mosman in June. Judge Mosman held that while there appears to be similarities “at first glance,” there are “material differences” between the two images.

Rentmeester appealed to the Ninth Circuit in September, and on Friday Nike urged the Ninth Circuit not to resurrect Rentmeester’s claim in its opening brief. Nike accused Rentmeester of “conflat[ing] basic principles of copyright law” and called the lawsuit “meritless and stale.” Nike also accused Rentmeester of “never put[ing] the two [pictures] side-by-side,” and told the Ninth Circuit the photos are “far” from substantially similar. Rentmeester’s reply brief is due January 11, 2016.

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