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Photographer loses copyright case involving corporate logo

Those who follow copyright law in Colorado may be interested in a court case of interest involving a famous photograph and an iconic product logo that just ended. After the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s opinion stood.

The photograph in question was taken for a major periodical in the 1980s. The photograph is of famous basketball player Michael Jordan in a mid-air jump. His legs are spread wide, one hand is held high in the air and the other one is holding a ball in his outstretched hand. The photo is intended to show him preparing to dunk the ball.

Later, Nike gave an endorsement contract to Jordan, and his basketball shoe line became one of the most popular of all time. The logo used is a silhouetted pose of Jordan that is similar to the pose in the photo. It not only was used for the shoe line, but also a line of athletic and leisure wear featuring the athlete. The logo is second only to the main corporate logo in popularity.

The photographer used an 1884 Supreme Court case as precedent. In that case, the Court determined that photographs are able to be copyright protected. The case noted that a photograph can be a unique form of expression. It considered not only the idea of the photographer, but factors such as pose, lighting, costumes and other factors.

The Ninth Circuit reviewed the case per precedent and also considered that it must be broken down into copyright-protected and unprotected elements. Though the photos are similar, they were not in areas of copyright-protected elements. There is a fine line between intellectual property protection and unprotected works. In close cases such as this, an intellectual property attorney can make a substantial difference.

Source: Above the Law ,”Nike Prevails In Copyright Case As SCOTUS Rejects Review Of ‘Jumpman’ Logo,” Krista L. Cox, March 28, 2019

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