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Nike, photographer seek 'Jumpman' photo trial in 2016

Famous image part of Nike's global logo for three decades

COURTESY OF NIKE - Nike's 'Jumpman' logo is one of the Washington County athletic apparel giant's most recognized brands.A New York photographer who claims Nike violated his copyright for its Jumpman logo of a young Michael Jordan dunking a basketball could get his day in court ... in about 15 months.

A proposed schedule by attorneys on both sides of the copyright violation case shifts a possible federal court date to late June 2016, unless the claim is settled sooner.

Nike attorneys are battling for rights to a photograph taken by Life Magazine’s Jacobus Rentmeester, who shot a picture of a young Michael Jordan reaching to dunk a ball with his left hand in a “grand jete” gesture with a darkening sky in the background (Jordan is right-handed). Rentmeester, from Westhampton Beach, N.Y., claimed in a Jan. 22 lawsuit filed in Portland’s U.S. District Court that Nike improperly used his 1984 photo of Olympic athlete Jordan dunking a basketball for the company’s 1985 photo of newly signed Chicago Bull Jordan making a very similar leap with the city’s skyline in the background.

Nike’s 1985 photo became the Jumpman silhouette logo that celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. It is attached to shoes, clothing and other items that represent millions of dollars in sales each year in Nike products.

On March 16, attorneys representing Nike denied claims that the Washington County athletic apparel giant violated Rentmeester’s copyright. Instead, attorneys wrote in a motion to dismiss the claims that Nike’s 1985 photo taken in Chicago is “substantially different” from the 1984 photo taken by Rentmeester for Life Magazine.

Nike attorneys wrote that Rentmeester’s lawsuit should be dismissed because the photographer failed to state a real claim. In fact, attorneys claimed the “mood” and style of the two photos were dissimilar.

“The moods expressed in the photographs are very different,” attorneys wrote. “On the one hand, the Rentmeester photo, taken in 1984 when Mr. Jordan was still a college player preparing for the Olympics, creates the mood of a young athlete striving (but not guaranteed) to achieve a goal — i.e. winning an Olympic medal.

“The Nike photo presents an entirely different story. Taken after Mr. Jordan signed with the Chicago Bulls, the Michael Jordan figure in this photo has attained a goal — he has arrived in Chicago to begin his promising professional career. In this picture, Michael Jordan soars triumphantly, almost effortlessly, over the skyline of Chicago. The Michael Jordan in this photograph has arrived, and the viewer knows that he will dunk that ball.”

Profits from the photo

Rentmeester claims Nike and others have infringed on his copyright, using the image of Jordan well beyond an agreement reached 30 years ago. He is seeking unspecified financial damages and attorneys’ fees based on “any profits attributable to infringement” of the copyright, according to his 25-page lawsuit.

Rentmeester took Jordan’s photo as part of a 1984 Life Magazine issue that included photos of athletes preparing for the summer Olympics. The shot of Jordan leaping was shot on a University of North Carolina campus hillside with a temporary basketball hoop installed just for the photo.

Rentmeester and two assistants spent a half hour with Jordan, choreographing the leaping motion using a ballet move and having Jordan hold the ball in his left hand, which took practice and repeated leaps to get the right shot.

Ironically, the man who became Nike's premier endorser was wearing Converse basketball shoes in the 1984 photo.

A limited license

Rentmeester was a Life Magazine staff photographer from 1966 to 1972, and then worked on contract for the magazine from 1972 until 2000. He retained the copyright on all his work, according to lawsuit. On Dec. 18, 2014, Rentmeester registered the Jordan photo with the U.S. Copyright Office. Even though the photo was copyrighted immediately after it was published, a copyright owner (Rentmeester) can only sue for infringement after the copyright has been registered.

Rentmeester’s attorneys claimed in the lawsuit that shortly after the photo was published, Nike was trying to woo Jordan to the brand and paid the photographer $150 for use of two 35mm transparencies of the photos, which originally were just to be part of company presentations.

Attorneys said Nike used the transparencies to recreate and copy the photo, including an image of Jordan leaping grand jete-style with the Chicago skyline in the background, ball in his left hand and his right hand extended.

After that, the lawsuit claims, Nike paid Rentmeester $15,000 for a limited license to use the image for two years. His lawsuit claims Nike “willfully exceeded the scope of the 1985 Jordan Photo Invoice by using the Nike Copy on billboards, posters and other promotional materials well beyond the two-year limit.”

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