Nike fired back in court this week in hopes of protecting the billions of dollars it has made off the most successful sports shoe franchise of all time.
Lawyers for the world's largest shoe and apparel brand on Monday filed both a motion to dismiss and a motion to prevent the brand from having to reveal specifics of its Jordan brand business as a result of a lawsuit filed by photographer Jacobus Rentmeester.
In January, Rentmeester sued Nike, claiming that it was his photograph -- taken of Jordan in a 1984 issue of Life magazine -- that was used without his permission for the creation of the Jordan logo, which became known as the Jumpman.
While Nike did not dispute that it paid Rentmeester for the temporary use of his photo shortly after signing Jordan to a shoe deal, the company asserted to the district court in Oregon that the photographer's claims are baseless because his photo and the Nike photograph that the Jordan silhouette is based on don't pass the legal standard of being "virtually identical."
"Rentmeester falls far short of that standard here given the significant -- and self-evident -- differences in mood, lighting, setting, expression, color, style and overall look and feel of his photograph, on the one hand, and Nike's photograph and logo on the other," Nike's lawyers wrote to the court.
Nike also asserted that Rentmeester's claim that the way he posed Jordan, like a ballet dancer, is problematic because poses themselves can't be copyrighted.
Nike started using the Jumpman logo on its shoes in 1987, after its deal with Rentmeester had expired. The company trademarked versions of the logo in 1989, 1992 and 1998.
For what he says is infringement, Rentmeester is seeking profits from the Jordan business back to 1987, even though he only recently copyrighted the photo himself and copyright cases usually limit awards to three years previous to the claim. To prove his claim that Nike used his work to produce what became the Jumpman, Rentmeester has asked for all documents relating to the logo and all revenues and profits from when the Jordan brand became its separate business division in 1997 to present. Nike says Rentmeester also is pressuring the company to get Michael Jordan involved and to share any documents between Jordan and Nike from 1983 to present.
To save the company from what it calls "an extensive and burdensome 'fishing trip,'" lawyers for the company have asked the court to delay discovery until a decision can be made whether or not to dismiss the case entirely.
Jordan signed a five-year, $2.5 million deal with Nike in 1984. The Jordan brand sold $2.6 billion worth of shoes in the United States alone in 2014, making up 58 percent of all basketball shoes sold, according to market retail tracking firm SportsScanInfo.