Last year we discussed Alfonso Ribeiro’s lawsuit against Epic Games, the makers of the video game Fortnite for using the “Carlton Dance” he did when starring on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” There was a question of whether or not the Carlton was considered to be choreography or pantomimes, since those are the only types of dances that are copyrightable, and if it was considered those, did it also fall under “social dance steps and simple routines.”
In his lawsuit, Ribeiro had alleged that Fortnite was using his dance without permission or compensation. The dance was one of over 100 that Fortnite players can buy for their characters, each costing around $5, thus the game earned millions off of these dances.
His lawsuit had said “The reaction from many players worldwide was immediate recognition of the emote as embodying The Dance and, in turn, Ribeiro. Indeed, by naming the emote ‘Fresh,’ Epic intentionally induced a direct connection between the in-game purchase and the show where The Dance started, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Ribeiro also filed a similar suit against Take-Two Interactive, the makers of NBA 2k, for using the Carlton as a victory dance. Take-Two filed a defense against it, requesting the suit be dismissed, arguing that the dance is too basic to be protected by copyright law. The Copyright Office agreed with this assessment when they denied Ribeiro’s request to copyright the dance in February. The copyright office explained that they denied his request because the three dance steps that the Carlton is comprised of are not enough to register the dance as a work of choreography.
“The dancer sways their hips as they step from side to side, while swinging their arms in an exaggerated manner,” wrote Saskia Florence, a member of the Copyright Office’s Performing Arts division. “In the second dance step, the dancer takes two steps to each side while opening and closing their legs and their arms in unison. In the final step, the dancer’s feet are still and they lower one hand from above their head to the middle of their chest while fluttering their fingers. The combination of these three dance steps is a simple routine that is not registrable as a choreographic work.”
Another factor in the Copyright Office rejecting Ribeiro’s lawsuit, because he had used the Carlton dance in a performance on Dancing with the Stars. This led to the question of if perhaps ABC has the rights to it, or even Ribeiro’s dance partner for the performance, Witney Carson.
After the copyright was denied, the makers of Fortnite moved to have Ribeiro’s case against them dismissed. Just a few weeks later, Ribeiro filed documents to voluntarily dismiss his lawsuits against Epic Games and Take-Two. Since he voluntarily dismissed the suit without prejudice, this means it can be filed again later, so if Ribeiro is able to copyright the dance somehow in the future, he can file the suit again.
After dropping the case, Ribeiro’s lawyer, David Hecht said, “We will continue to vigorously fight for our clients’ rights against those who wrongly take their creations without permission and without compensation.”