Many Arizonans are familiar with the black “Jumpman” silhouette logo that Nike uses in its ads. That logo was allegedly created from a photo that a photographer shot while watching former NBA star Michael Jordan practice in 1984. Now, more than 30 years later, the photographer is suing Nike in federal court for copyright infringement and is asking for profits from the logo.
According to reports, the photographer took the photo for Life Magazine and was approached by Nike, which paid $150 for use of the slides. Not long after that, Nike used the famous photo, with a Chicago skyline added in the background, in its Air Jordan campaigns. The photographer threatened to sue Nike in 1985, but instead granted the athletic company use of the logo on billboards for two years. He was paid $15,000 for its use.
Nike continued using the logo in 1987 and then trademarked several versions of it. The photographer, the owner of the picture, did not file a lawsuit until recently, nearly 28 years later. The photo wasn’t even registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office until December 2014.
According to federal law, copyright claims can be filed in court within three years from the time the infringement occurs. However, the Supreme Court ruled last year that there is no statute of limitations if the infringement continues. That is probably why the photographer decided to continue the trademark dispute.
Patents, trademarks and copyrights are typically patented with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The details of what exactly happened in 1984 are unclear, but if the photographer allegedly allowed Nike to use the slides, then they were likely within their rights to do so, especially if the photo was never officially copyrighted.
Those dealing with copyright issues should seek information about their situation. Legal guidance could assist them with their issues while also protecting their rights and interests.
Source: ESPN, “Nike sued over Michael Jordan logo” Darren Rovell, Jan. 23, 2015
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