North Dakota Law

Updates from the University of North Dakota School of Law.

Assistant Professor Nikola Datzov quoted: Burgum’s campaign is using pop culture for merchandise. Is he violating copyright laws?

Much of Gov. Doug Burgum’s presidential campaign merchandise and social media posts draw inspiration from pop culture.JumpBurgum.jpg

The Jumpman logo, left, compared to a T-shirt being sold by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s presidential campaign.WDAY graphic

InForum | By Nick Broadway of WDAY

Friday, September 15

FARGO — The day after his basketball injury, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s presidential campaign wasted little time before putting a T-shirt on its website with a mock-up of the famous Jumpman logo depicting NBA star Michael Jordan.

Along with wearing a cowboy hat, Burgum’s version trades in the sneakers for a cowboy boot and an ankle cast.

That shirt came not too long after the campaign released a “try that in a small town” shirt, lifting lyrics from a recent Jason Aldean song.

It has some asking if they’re playing it fast and loose with copyright infringement — something University of North Dakota law professor Nick Datzov calls a complicated issue.

“It’s extremely difficult, I think, to draw a very clear line of, ‘This is permitted, and this is not permitted,’ and that’s because the courts haven’t drawn a very clear line for us,” Datzov said.

He said if intellectual property owners want to make a case for infringement, the work has to be substantially similar.

In the case of the Jumpman shirt, he thinks there may be enough changes for it to fall under the fair use doctrine.

Datzov said Jumpman has already been to court multiple times. A CrossFit branch is being sued for using an upside-down Jumpman, he said.

The photographer who took the photo that inspired Jumpman lost an infringement lawsuit against Nike.

“Those little differences can make a really big legal impact in whether something is permissible or not,” Datzov said.

It is a similar situation with Burgum’s “Eras” poster — seemingly inspired by a Taylor Swift tour poster.


The Burgum campaign released a poster, left, in a similar style to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour poster.WDAY graphic

“Copyright law protects specific artistic expressions. It does not protect general sort of ideas,” Datzov said. “Clearly, you can see these aren’t the same images being reused. Taylor Swift is not in Gov. Burgum’s poster and vice versa.”

While fair use doesn’t make Burgum’s campaign immune to lawsuits, it may let them squeak by if the changes are big enough.