Brian Masck captured the image of Howard striking a "Heisman Trophy" pose during the 1991 Michigan-Ohio State game.
Masck, a freelance photographer, accused companies including Sports Illustrated, Amazon, Walmart and Getty Images with failing to credit him and cheating him out of the money and notoriety he deserved.
"These various intellectual property pirates who are defendants in this case have taken a business crowbar to that byline and have pried Brian Masck's name away from his iconic photograph," said the 63-page suit filed in Detroit federal court. "They have separated him from his work."
The Detroit News said Sunday Masck only received the copyright to the photo in 2011 and made some digital alterations to small details in the image in order to identify publications and products he contends are not authorized to use it.