Photog Who Shot Image for Nike’s “Bo Knows” Ad Campaign Unleashes Lawsuits on Infringers

Richard Noble's 1987 portrait of baseball and football star Bo Jackson. ©Richard Noble

Richard Noble’s 1987 portrait of baseball and football star Bo Jackson. ©Richard Noble

Photographer Richard Noble has reached a tentative settlement with Nike over a copyright infringement claim, filed a second infringement claim against various t-shirt vendors, and is preparing to file new claims against other infringers in the coming weeks, according to his attorney, Edward Greenberg.

All of the claims allege unauthorized use of an iconic image of athlete Bo Jackson, which Noble shot in 1987. The photograph became the poster image for a legendary ad campaign called “Bo Knows” that helped turn Nike into the leading athletic footwear brand.

“Mr. Noble has not licensed this image to anybody for any purpose in some 20 years,” says Greenberg.

Noble sued Nike in June, and was seeking unspecified damages for multiple unauthorized uses of the Bo Jackson image. Nike’s alleged infringement dated back to 2007.

Greenberg declined to discuss the terms of the settlement agreement with Nike, which is still pending, or explain why Noble waited until June 2013 to sue Nike for infringements that took place as long as six years ago. But court papers suggest Noble wasn’t aware of them until more recent infringements led him to suspect past infringement, and search for them.

According to the claim he filed against Nike, Noble was contacted by ESPN and Nike last fall for permission to use the image of Bo Jackson for various projects. ESPN wanted to use it in a documentary film about Bo Jackson, while Nike wanted it for unspecified marketing campaigns, and the company told Noble it wanted to buy “all rights” to the image.

Noble declined both requests, and asked Nike for more details about how they wanted to use the image, so he could propose a fee for a limited license. Nike told Noble in late 2012 they were eager to start using the image, but Noble told the company in mid January 2013 to “hold off” pending a license agreement to be determined, according to the lawsuit. He also told Nike explicitly that he would not agree to a “buy out” of the image.

Then, on January 23, 2013, Noble discovered that Nike had already started using the image. According to Noble’s lawsuit, the company admitted it had distributed the photo on Facebook and Twitter, and had provided it to ESPN for use in the network’s promotion of the documentary film about Bo Jackson.

The lawsuit said that Noble then discovered that a number of other companies had used the image in promotions of Nike products. Those other companies include Steiner Sport Memorabilia, Major League Baseball, Sneaker Bar Detroit and Nice Kicks. Noble alleged in his lawsuit that Nike provided the image to those companies, and authorized them to use it without Noble’s permission.

In addition, Noble discovered that Nike had used the image in various ads and promotions for its products in 2007, 2009 and 2012 without his permission.

Noble says in his claim that he has asked Nike for a full accounting of its past uses of the image, and uses by other companies that were facilitated by Nike (i.e., for which Nike provided the picture and told those third parties it was OK for them to use the image).

He has also told Bo Jackson himself to stop using the photo as an autograph handout because he has not authorized Jackson to do that, according to the lawsuit.

Noble is planning to file copyright infringement claims against other companies besides Nike who have used his Bo Jackson image without permission, Greenberg told PDN.

So far, only one other claim has been filed. That claim, against Blank Shirts Inc and a number of other t-shirt sellers. According to the claim, Noble discovered in June that the companies were using the Bo Jackson image on t-shirts for sale through various Web sites. Noble is seeking unspecified damages from the defendants in that case.

Greenberg says he will file a third lawsuit next week against other companies who have used Noble’s image of Bo Jackson without permission. Other lawsuits could follow that, he said.

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8 Responses to “Photog Who Shot Image for Nike’s “Bo Knows” Ad Campaign Unleashes Lawsuits on Infringers”

  1. superf88 Says:

    uh… oh….

    http://bit.ly/176eO1O

  2. Samson Jones Says:

    I hope the photographer takes Nike et al to the cleaners. Many big firms make a habit of screwing the little guy, and if they have to pay big it will deter other big guys from ripping off the little guy.

  3. dbltapp Says:

    Perhaps if specific individuals lose their jobs, others in the industry will finally pay attention.

  4. darryl humphrey Says:

    @Samson Jones
    ..or, perhaps it will cause big companies like Nike etc. to reconsider licensing photography from professionals any more becuase the risk of litigation down the road becomes too costly. Instead, it might encourage them to work with low-end photography, bloggers, amateur or part-time shooters…
    I would expect being reasonable would be the best way to proceed in a lawsuit. Not taking the company “to the cleaners”, just to require fair use and damages for lost income, for the years past. Being greedy in high-profile lawsuits by any one wronged individual could literally affect the rest of us for years to come.

    ———–
    Samson Jones Says:

    I hope the photographer takes Nike et al to the cleaners. Many big firms make a habit of screwing the little guy, and if they have to pay big it will deter other big guys from ripping off the little guy.

  5. Dean Hare Says:

    Another possibility is that big companies will return to an old practice — hiring staff photographers, hopefully for good wages and benefits. Then any images those photographers make for the company are owned by the company.

  6. blumnionion Says:

    DARRYL HUMPHREY:

    “perhaps it will cause big companies like Nike etc. to reconsider licensing photography from professionals any more becuase the risk of litigation down the road becomes too costly. ”

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME!! This is exactly the reason pro photography is in the shit state it’s in, photographers willing to take any crap from any client just to prevent them from going elsewhere. Photographers are the biggest suckers in business (see istock, getty etc) Most would pay the publisher to print their pictures in a magazine. Try telling a plumber to fix your sink for “credit” and he’ll likely break your nose but not photographers “they screwed me and stole all my stuff but I don’t want to sue them because then maybe they’ll never use me again”. Clients and big companies already know this and thats why they steal images all the time and offer low rates and thieving contracts. Because they know you wont do anything about it……….

  7. Peter Leverman Says:

    I did some assisting for Richard around the time of the Bo Jackson work (although not on that shoot). Richard always struck me as very talented and professional. It’s good to see him stand up for himself and his work. I hope he is well rewarded for doing so.

  8. Ron Levy Says:

    Most comments on these forums tend to assume things about either party that they don’t know. We don’t really know what was done on purpose vs accidental.

    Then people conclude that one party is guilty, usually the deep pockets, and the little guy should win. To me, as a pro photographer of 30 years, it is a bit unclear what rights Richard licensed to Nike, and if there was bad faith involved or some kind of understandable error. Without that info, I can’t conclude anything.

    Clients are people too. But if Richard’s images were used without permission, he deserves all the compensation that the copyright act allows.