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Photographer sues Nike over use of iconic Michael Jordan dunk image

Michael Jordan dunk

You know exactly what photo we are talking about — Michael Jordan, soaring in for a dunk, defying gravity with his legs spread and his arm over his head with the ball about to throw down a massive dunk.

You know it because it is the “jumpman” logo on the Jordan brand.

But that’s the problem for a photographer who has filed a lawsuit against NIKE — he says the shoe manufacturer didn’t have the rights to use the image in that way.

From the Associated Press:

Jacobus Rentmeester of New York City filed the lawsuit against Oregon-based Nike Inc. on Thursday in federal court in Portland, Oregon. He’s seeking unspecified monetary damages, profits generated from the image, and an injunction preventing further copyright infringement.

Rentmeester staged and shot the photo for Life magazine as part of a special section published for the 1984 Summer Olympics. As a freelancer, he retained rights to the copyright. Nike later paid him $150 for temporary use of two transparencies of the photo.

According to the complaint, Nike then produced a nearly identical photograph of Jordan and reproduced it on billboards, and when Rentmeester threatened litigation, the Oregon company paid him $15,000 for a limited license to use the image for two years.

The complaint says Nike continued to reproduce the photo after that period and used it to create the distinctive “Jumpman” logo, a silhouette of the leaping Jordan inspired by the photograph. The company went on to create the Jordan Brand division, which markets Michael Jordan products using the photo and the logo.

I’m no expert in copyright law, but this strikes me as the kind of lawsuit that gets settled out of court — money can smooth out a lot of rough patches.

Hopefully that does it, because I love NIKE’s Jordan line — maybe my favorite pair of sneakers in my limited collection is a pair of retro Jordan 1s — and I can’t picture then without the logo.