Air Jordan, Nike’s successful basketball brand, could be brought crashing back to earth by a lawsuit which claims its iconic logo is guilty of copyright infringement.
The silhouetted image of Michael Jordan stretching for a slam dunk has been the most prominent logo of Nike's basketball merchandise which generated $3.2bn (£2.1bn) in revenue in the financial year ended 32 May 2014.
But photographer Jacobus Rentmeester claims the logo has been taken from his 1984 photo of Jordan and is suing Nike in a federal court in Oregon.
Rentmeester is demanding monetary damages, profits from the Jordan “Jumpman” logo, and an injunction preventing further copyright infringement.
The photographer staged and shot the photo as part of a special edition of Life magazine for the 1984 Summer Olympics.
As he was a freelancer, Rentmeester retained the rights to the copyright. Nike paid him $150 for temporary use of two transparencies of the photo in 1986.
The lawsuit states:
Mr. Rentmeester created the pose, inspired by a ballet technique known as a “grand jete”, a long horizontal jump during which a dancer performs splits in mid air.The pose, while conceived to make to appear that Mr. Jordan was in the process of a dunk, was not reflective of Mr. Jordan’s natural jump or dunking style.
Yet in the complaint argues that Nike produced a near identical photo of Jordan jumping and posted it on billboards two years later. Rentmeester threatened litigation and was paid $15,000 (£10,000) by the sportswear giant for limited use of the image for two years.
Almost three decades later, Rentmeester is now suing Nike for continuing reproduce the photo and using it to create the iconic Jordan logo beyond that time.
Neither party was available for comment.
This is not the first time Nike has been accused of copyright infringement. In 2005 it withdrew an advert for its skateboard brand due to its similarity to artwork for a record by punk band Minor Threat.