In 1984, Jacobus Rentmeester, then a student at the University of North Carolina, took a photograph of Michael Jordan for Time Magazine, which made it appear that Jordan was about to dunk the ball with one hand. Although such photographs are quite common, Rentmeester’s photo was unique in several ways. For one thing, Jordan’s in-the-air pose resembled a leap in ballet.
At a subsequent time, Nike produced a photo that was similar to Rentmeester’s. However, it differed slightly. For one thing, Jordan was wearing his Chicago Bulls uniform in the Nike photo, and the Chicago skyline could be seen in the background. The Nike photo was used to create the famous ‘Jumpman” logo, which is one of Nike’s most recognizable trademarks.
After retiring from his professional photography career in 2015, Rentmeester sued Nike, claiming that Nike’s photograph infringed on the one that he had taken. However, in March of 2019, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Nike’s photo and logo did not infringe on Rentmeester’s photograph, which served to exonerate Nike. At the heart of the lawsuit was whether Nike’s photo was ‘substantially similar” to Rentmeester’s, which the lower courts had ruled that it was not.
Photographs can be copyrighted, and a copyrighted photo cannot be used without the permission of the owner. However, the idea behind a photograph cannot be copyrighted. Such nuances highlight the importance of protecting intellectual property, including copyrights. On the other hand, it shows that a copyright does not prevent another entity from exercising its rights. Obviously, copyright laws are quite complex. For that reason, anyone who has a copyright issue may want to enlist the services of a law firm with experience in intellectual property litigation.