The Jumpman logo made famous by Nike depicting Michael Jordan, split-legged, about to dunk a basketball with one hand with a city skyline in the background, was at issue before the Ninth Circuit earlier this week as a copyright fight over the photo continues.
Jacobus Rentmeester, the photographer, claims that the Jumpman logo is an unauthorized derivative work copying the central creative elements of the photograph “conceived, orchestrated and created,” for a 1984 issue of LIFE Magazine for the Summer Olympics.
Nike moved to dismiss the lawsuit with the district court granting it motion and thus the Ninth Circuit appeal. Rentmeester cited numerous deficiencies in the district court’s decision including the fact that he was entitled only to “thin” copyright protection despite being an original work of visual art.
In the Jumpman logo appeal, it appears that the main question is one of differences and whether the photographer can show that the phot was infringed. The appellate court questioned what other differences were there aside from the pose. Judge Marsha Berzon questioned whether the pose is protected because it’s unusual. Rentmeester’s attorneys argue it is protected because he had directed the shot of Jordan. Nike argued that siding with this viewpoint would be a “radical expansion of copyright law.”
Interesting enough, Judge John Owens asked about a hypothetical situation in which new Los Angeles Lakers first round pick Lonzo Ball were to use a similar pose dunking over the city skyline to promote him as “the next Michael Jordan” and whether that would be protected by copyright. Nike’s attorney responded by indicating the creative use of the Chicago skyline made its rendering distinct.
Ironically, Nike is opposing a trademark filing by one of its own sponsored athletes, New England Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowsi, citing a logo he would like to use is too similar to the Jumpman logo.