Well I guess good things don’t always come to people who wait. After waiting almost 30 years, a photographer had a lawsuit dismissed after suing Nike for copyright infringement claiming that the sneaker company stole his photograph to create the famous Michael Jordan Jumpman logo.
Back in 1987, Ronald Reagan was president, Michael Jackson’s Bad topped the charts, a yellow family named the Simpsons first appeared on The Tracey Ullman Show, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant got it on at Wrestlemania III, and Nike allegedly began using the famous jumping logo of Michael Jordan on its sneakers without permission. Jacobus Rentmeester, at the time, paid a visit to the campus of the University of North Carolina to take photos of an up-and-coming hoops star named Michael Jordan. The photo that was contained with the complaint can be seen below. After paying for the use of the photograph for two years, the plaintiff claims that Nike created a substantially similar photograph that can be seen below. Nike’s photo was silhouetted and became the world famous Jumpman logo that has been on Nike sneakers since 1987. Not only does plaintiff claim that the photographs are substantially similar but so are the silhouetted logos.
On Monday, a Federal Court in Oregon granted Nike’s motion to dismiss the case. When comparing the two above photographs the court did not find sufficient substantial similarity between the two to warrant a finding of copyright infringement. The court held that photographs are entitled to a minimal level of protection and under under this standard the pictures much be virtually identical, when they are not. The court noted the background, the scale and placement of Jordan in the photographs as some key differences. For similar reasons, the judge held that the Jumpman logo is nothing more than an expression of a pose and these two poses are not similar.
Not only is this a lose for Rentmeester but, as the victorious party, Nike is permitted to request recovery of its reasonable costs including attorneys’ fees. This could be a costly lose for the photographer.