For any athlete looking to achieve global stardom, Michael Jordan stands as the gold standard. In addition to his legacy as the greatest basketball player of all time, he remains a global brand years after his retirement from the game. During his playing career, he starred in television and print ads for countless products, and is widely credited with helping make Nike the world leader in athletic apparel that it is today. And while he has mostly stepped away from his role as a global pitchman to focus his energies on owning the NBA's Charlotte Hornets, the popularity of Nike's Jordan products demonstrates the lasting appeal of his brand. But one recent lawsuit is claiming that his world-famous logo was in fact stolen.
Photographer Jacobus Rentmeester has filed a lawsuit against Nike over copyright infringement, claiming the company used his work in creating the now iconic "Jumpman" logo associated with their Jordan brand products. Rentmeester took the original photograph, featuring Jordan dunking a basketball in his Olympic warm up suit, in 1984 as part of a story for Life magazine. Nike paid $150 for temporary use of the photo, with Rentmeester retaining rights to the photograph.
Nike then created a similar image of Jordan featuring him in his Chicago Bulls uniform with the Chicago skyline in the background, which Rentmeester claims is still basically his work. Rentmeester claims that after he complained of the use and threatened litigation, Nike then paid him $15,000 for a limited license of two years to use the logo on billboards and print ads starting in 1985. However, Rentmeester claims the use continued after the expiration of the two year period. The Jumpman logo made their first appearance on Air Jordans with their third iteration in 1987. Nike has trademarked versions of the logo in 1989, 1992, and 1998.
According to the suit, Rentmeester was directly responsible for creating the pose, basing it on a "grand jeté" in ballet and directing Jordan in performing the move for the shoot. This claim would appear to be substantiated by an interview Jordan gave to Hoop Magazine in 1997 where Jordan admits the pose was a ballet move used for the purpose of creating the photograph. Despite 30 years having passed since the original photograph was taken, Rentmeester registered the photograph with the US Patent and Trademark Office in December 2014.
Rentmeester's grievance against Nike was given new life by a recent Supreme Court ruling that resets the clock on the three year window given to file claims on copyright infringement so long as the infringement is ongoing. Given that the Jordan Brand generated $3.2 billion in sales in 2014, it's a safe bet that the Jumpman logo has been used a time or two in the past year.
You may not be a global icon and star of award-winning films, but that doesn't mean your intellectual property is any less important. Ensuring no one is infringing on your copyrights, or that you aren't infringing yourself, is an important first step in making sure your venture is a slam dunk.
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