A federal judge recently ruled in favor of Nike in a copyright lawsuit verse NBA star Kawhi Leonard. The lawsuit originated from a dispute as to which party rightfully owned the copyright to the Klaw logo. U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman ruled that Nike owns the copyright in the Klaw logo.

Facts Leading to the Dispute

While in college, Kawhi conceived a logo that was comprised of his initials, his jersey number, and a representation of one of his massive hands, which are often referred to as “claws.” After entering the league, Kawhi signed an endorsement deal with Nike. In 2014, Kawhi provided Nike with a “rough draft” of the Klaw design that he conceived while in college. Nike’s team of designers modified the logo and Nike used the modified logo on apparel and footwear.

In 2018, the parties decided to part ways and Kawhi signed a new endorsement deal with New Balance. Nike of course maintained that it was the true owner of the Klaw copyright. In response, Kawhi brought the dispute to court.

The Law

One of the key determinations is whether Nike’s design is a derivative work of Leonard’s design. Only the owner of an original work has the right to prepare derivative works. “A ‘derivative work’ is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a ‘derivative work’.” 17 U.S.C. §101. The Court considered the following two designs when assessing whether Nike’s design is a derivative work:

Nike owns the copyright in the Klaw logo
See 3:19-cv-01035-BAS-BGS, Court Document 16.

The Outcome

According to Maxine Bernstein of The Oregonian, Judge Mosman ruled in a telephonic hearing that Nike’s mark is not merely a derivative work. Judge Mosman allegedly stated “I do find [the Nike design] to be new and significantly different from [Leonard’s] design.” As a result, Judge Mosman dismissed Kawhi’s claims. For the time being, Nike owns the copyright in the Klaw logo. There is however, always a possibility that Kawhi will appeal.