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Court Dismisses Photog’s Copyright Lawsuit Against Nike Over Jumpman Photo



A federal court has dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against Nike by photographer Jacobus Rentmeester, who claimed that the sports juggernaut had ripped off his 1984 photo of Michael Jordan for its own photo and its iconic Jumpman logo.

PDNPulse writes that the decision was based on the fact that copyright law protects expression of ideas rather than the ideas themselves. The court concluded that Nike’s photo and logo weren’t “substantially similar” to Rentmeester’s original photo, so no copyright infringement had occurred.

Rentmeester’s original 1984 photo, shot for LIFE magazine.

In his decision, US District Judge Michael W. Mosman wrote that “there is nothing original about the selection and arrangement of having a Michael Jordan jump with a basketball in the vicinity of a basketball hoop,” and that there are relatively few ways to express that idea in a photo.

Nike’s 1985 photo of Jordan dunking.
The iconic Nike Jumpman logo based on the company’s 1985 photo of Jordan.

For copyright infringement to have occurred, Nike’s image would have to be nearly identical to Rentmeester’s photo, but the court was able to point out numerous points at which the photographs differ, including the details of the pose, the size and position of Jordan in the frame, the colors, and the backdrop.

“It would be a stretch of the imagination to call [the photos] similar at all,” Mosman writes. “Other than the similar perspective, there are few if any similarities” between the main, protectable elements of the shots.

Rentmeester is currently planning to appeal the decision. You can read our original coverage of his case here. More information about the court ruling can be found over at PDNPulse.