Nike’s facing a lawsuit focused on one of the most iconic logos not only in the company’s history, but in all of sports and pop culture.
Photographer Jacobus Rentmeester filed suit in Oregon on Friday, claiming Nike is violating copyright laws by using his photo of Michael Jordan for their ‘Jumpman’ logo. Rentmeester shot the now iconic image of Jordan in 1984 for Life magazine. According to the lawsuit, Nike recreated the image of Jordan in 1985 and put the ‘Jumpman’ logo in place in 1987, doing so without Rentmeester’s consent:
“Not only is he asking for profits associated with the Jordan brand, which generated $3.2 billion in retail sales in 2014, but he also is seeking to halt current sales and plans for the brand’s future.
“Rentmeester says he took a picture of Jordan in his Olympic warm-ups in 1984 for an issue of Life Magazine. After it was published, Nike’s Peter Moore, who designed the first Air Jordans, paid $150 for temporary use of Rentmeester’s slides. Rentmeester says Nike used his photo to recreate the shot with Jordan in Bulls gear with the Chicago skyline in the background, but that it was essentially still his work.
“‘Mr. Rentmeester created the pose, inspired by a ballet technique known as a ‘grand jete,’ a long horizontal jump during which a dancer performs splits in mid-air,’ the lawsuit says. ‘The pose, while conceived to make it appear that Mr. Jordan was in the process of a dunk, was not reflective of Mr. Jordan’s natural jump or dunking style.’
The suit claims Rentmeester directed Jordan, who practiced the desired leap, an unnatural move for the star because he typically held the ball with his right hand. Jordan, the suit claims, backed up the idea that it was indeed a ballet move in a 1997 interview with Hoop Magazine.”
Reportedly, Rentmeester claims he almost sued Nike in 1985 before they paid him $15K to use the image for two years, after he was paid $150 for the original shoot. The company later trademarked the logo for the first time in 1989. So, why is Rentmeester suddenly seeking additional payment after all these years?
“In the suit, Rentmeester claims it was he, not Life Magazine, who remained the owner of the picture, but he noted that the photo was registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the first time just last month.
“Federal copyright law allows people to bring copyright claims within three years of an infringing act. But in May 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court in a similar copyright case ruled that delay in filing a copyright claim isn’t a bar to seeking damages as long as the copyright infringement continues.”
For Nike enthusiasts and historians, what maybe be most interesting part of the lawsuit is the narrative associated with how the picture itself was created. There’s the note mentioning how the photographer requested Jordan to jump with the ball in his left hand – versus right hand, his natural shooting hand. Then, there’s a detailed account of how quickly the shoot came together, per Oregon Live:
“It says Rentmeester arrived on the University of North Carolina campus in the summer of 1984 with two assistants. University staff told him Jordan would be available for 20 minutes.
Rentmeester convinced university officials the photograph should take place outdoors and not inside a gymnasium. He chose ‘a relatively isolated knoll with little visual distraction,’ the lawsuit says.
It says Rentmeester told the assistants to buy a basketball hoop, backboard and pole and position it at the photo shoot location.
“‘To further minimize visual distractions,’ the lawsuit says, ‘Mr. Rentmeester asked his assistants to borrow a lawn mower from the UNC groundskeeping staff. They mowed the grass as low as possible to maximize attention on Mr. Jordan’s soaring figure.’
Before Jordan’s arrival, Rentmeester took several practice photographs with an assistant standing in for Jordan, who that year had been named the NCAA College Basketball Player of the Year by The Associated Press.
Rentmeester shot photos of the assistant with a Polaroid camera so that he could show Jordan the desired pose, the lawsuit says.”
Rentmeester seeks unspecified financial damages. No court date has yet been set.
Nike reportedly declined comment on the lawsuit.