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Photographer Claims Nike Stole Iconic Michael Jordan Logo Photo

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Photographer Claims Nike Stole Iconic Michael Jordan Logo Photo

A moment that should have been a highlight in photographer Jacobus “Co” Rentmeester’s life has turned into a story of regret. Rentmeester claims Nike tricked him out of credit for a photo he took of Michael Jordan, which became the famous logo for the company’s Jordan Brand.

In the new short documentary “Jumpman,” Rentmeester accuses Nike of copying his work to create the Jordan Brand logo, which has been used on countless sneakers and clothing items for decades. The original photo was taken during a Life magazine shoot for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, where Jordan performed a grand jeté, a ballet move where the dancer jumps and spreads their legs wide.

The Jordan Brand is now worth $6 billion, but Rentmeester is upset that Nike did not properly credit or compensate him for his photo, which he believes inspired the logo. “There is a certain brutality by major corporations,” Rentmeester told Fortune. “They just take what they need and don’t want to share credit for the creative process.”

Nike has not responded to requests for comment

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Rentmeester, now 88, is a former Olympic rower who competed for Holland in the 1960 Rome games. He found the 1984 photo shoot request unusual compared to others. “I was asked to do a photo essay of athletes in outstanding situations,” he told Adweek.

Instead of using a basketball court, Rentmeester photographed Jordan outdoors against a blue sky to capture his athleticism as if he were flying. He claims this image guided a later Nike-commissioned shoot with photographer Chuck Kuhn, featuring Jordan in a similar pose. Nike art directors had initially paid Rentmeester $150 for copies of his images, promising to credit him and not to copy or duplicate the photos.

“They ignored that, obviously,” Rentmeester said. In 1985, he agreed to a $15,000 payment for a two-year license for Nike to use the photo in North America. The contract expired 37 years ago, but Rentmeester’s photo continues to be used worldwide.

“They kept using it all these years without coming back to me,” he said. Although he pursued legal action in 2015, the court ruled against him, stating the photos were “different enough to have been separate works.” His appeal was also denied.

“I felt very restricted because as a single individual taking on the law firms that Nike could produce, there seemed like very little chance that I would go far,” Rentmeester said. He added that had Nike shown good faith, such as offering him the chance to take later photos, there would not have been lasting resentment and legal actions.

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