Jumpman Lawsuit Tests Threshold of Valid Inspiration

When you think of the most Iconic and successful logos in the sports apparel industry, the “Jumpman” logo should probably make your top 5. The famous mark was developed by Nike in the 80s to brand Michael Jordan’s famous Air Jordan shoe. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, the new Air Jordans were “the” shoes to have each year. Even though I never felt the compulsion to own a pair myself, almost every one of my friends at the time had to have them, even if they didn’t play basketball.

Well, it appears the development process that Nike employed for the logo is in dispute because of an existing photo that Photographer Jacobus Rentmeester took for LIFE Magazine in 1984. With Jordan donning his Olympic warmups, Rentmeester took photos of him jumping with a ball in a specific ballet technique that is arguably not Jordan’s natural style. The result was pose that was very similar to pictures Nike took and later used to make the Jumpman logo.

What makes this difficult for Nike is that they paid Rentmeester $15k to use their own photograph that was inspired by the 1984 pic taken by Rentmeester. It would be difficult for Nike to plausibly admit the photograph is inspired by Rentmeester’s picture and at the same time deny that the Jumpman logo is also inspired by it. On the other hand, it seems to me that all artists are largely “inspired” by others in the process of their work. Is this the kind of inspiration you think warrants a multi-million dollar lawsuit?