The life of the most successful sneaker franchise of all time is at risk, as a photographer is accusing Nike of using his work to make its famous “Jumpman” logo of Michael Jordan’s silhouette.
Jacobus Rentmeester is suing Nike in federal court in Oregon for copyright infringement. 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.
Rentmeester said that in March 1985 — after threatening to sue the shoe and apparel brand — he granted Nike use of the Jordan logo for two years on billboards and posters in North America, for which he was paid $15,000. The Jumpman image also was featured as a tag on the Air Jordan I shoes, which sold for $65 a pair.
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