Alfonso Ribeiro Refused Copyright Over ‘Carlton’ Dance In ‘Fortnite’ Case
I'm sure you've seen previous stories (here are a couple) regarding the originators of particular dance steps, and the use of them in the massively popular video game Fortnite without its developers, Epic Games, obtaining any kind of permissions from said moves-makers.
One of the highest-profile cases of a dancer pointing the finger at Epic and accusing them of using their signature style without any kind of recompense is actor Alfonso Ribeiro, who found fame as the character Carlton Banks in 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He'd previously made moves to sue Epic over what he saw as an infringement of his copyright, and right of publicity.
The 'Carlton', while popularised by Ribeiro in The Fresh Prince, was inspired by a 1987 comedy routine by Eddie Murphy, regarding how white people can't dance properly. (I mean, that's an awful generalisation, but I know I can't.) His legal action against Epic, for the inclusion of a dance move emote called "Fresh" (come on, guys, you're not even trying), has made headlines in the games press and beyond. Because, well, it is a *bit* shitty that a massive money-maker like Fortnite is using a routine that Ribeiro created, with no credit whatsoever.
And they are, well, exactly the same. See the video below (or on YouTube) to see what we mean...
But now proceedings have hit a rather significant stumbling block. It's been fairly well argued that no individual can own a single dance move (what Michael Jackson's legal teams would be saying about that, if the late star were in this position today, I don't know), and now the US Copyright Office has refused Ribeiro's attempt to register the 'Carlton' as his, well, property.
In response to his application, the Copyright Office put together a comprehensive letter - you can see it here - stating: "...we must refuse registration for 'The Dance by Alfonso Ribeiro - Variation B' because the work submitted for registration is a simple dance routine. As such, it is not registerable as a choreographic work."
Had Ribeiro's "Variation B", the 'Carlton', been recognised as a complete dance routine, the situation would be different. As a three-step move, the 'Carlton' is not regarded as a fully choreographed work, and as such, despite containing a degree of originality, it cannot be copyrighted. Sorry guys, but that is *not* victory you're smelling.
The note concludes: "This letter is for your information only; no response is necessary."
Epic Games - and 2K Games, who Ribeiro is also suing for including the 'Carlton' in their NBA 2K series - have moved to dismiss the actor's proceedings in light of the Copyright Office's official position. Other titles to have featured the same dance, including Forza Horizon 4, have removed the moves in question.
Where does all of this leave Ribeiro? Well, certainly a lot less likely to see a penny from Epic's pockets, likewise those of 2K. Any strong thoughts on all of this? Are Epic in the wrong? Have they found, and exploited, a loophole, and benefited from it? Let us know - we're on Twitter and Facebook.