1990s TV star Alfonso Ribeiro's attempt to sue Fortnite for the use of the 'Carlton Dance' - first seen in a 1991 episode of the Fresh Prince - seems to have collapsed at the first sideways step and finger snap, as the U.S. Copyright Office is sceptical over his claim to ownership of the famous dance routine. A Supervisory Specialist ruled that the claimed 'choreographic work' was more of a 'simple dance routine', writes the Hollywood Reporter, and is thus not eligible for ownership. This refusal to support the copyright claim is being seized upon by Take-Two Interactive, who Ribeiro also tried to sue for the use of the 'Carlton Dance' in NBA 2K. If you're interested in the joyless but meticulous translation of a dance routine into an analytical stream of words written to assess its legibility for copyright protection, we'd advise reading the full dismissal right here.
Original story, published December 17, 2018:
Many Fortnite emotes are styled after actual dance moves from music videos and TV series, and this has repeatedly put developer Epic Games in a tough spot - and in court. As TMZ reports, today actor Alfonso Ribeiro, best known for his part as Carlton on '90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, filed a lawsuit against Epic for the allegedly unlawful use of the 'Carlton' dance in Fortnite.
Fortnite's 'Fresh' emote is a dead ringer for the Carlton dance, and its name is a clear nod to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. However, according to Ribeiro's lawsuit (via TMZ), "Epic has failed to compensate or even ask permission from Mr. Ribeiro for the use of his likeness and iconic intellectual property." Ribeiro reportedly filed the same suit against 2K, presumably because the Carlton dance also appears in games such as NBA 2K16 under the name 'So Fresh.'
Interestingly, the Carlton dance was cited in another lawsuit filed against Epic earlier this year by rapper Terrence '2 Milly' Ferguson. As TMZ reported, Ferguson's claim was nearly identical to Ribeiro's: the rapper said Epic profited off his likeness - in this case, his 'Milly Rock' dance - without compensation or consent. Ferguson pointed to Snoop Dogg's 'Drop It Like It's Hot' dance and the Carlton as other examples of Epic "[exploiting] African-American talent."
Relatedly, last month Scrubs star Donald Faison blasted Epic for using his 'Poison' dance in Fortnite without compensating him. At the time, series creator Bill Lawrence joked about being paid in Faison's place. However, Lawrence also said Epic "had to inquire about the legality of [using the dance], and it's fine because it's just a character dancing."
Lawrence's statement highlights why lawsuits like these are difficult to judge: determining ownership of a dance move is tricky business. Ribeiro is reportedly in the process of copyrighting the Carlton dance, but for now it's unclear who owns it. Does the dance belong to Ribeiro, the choreographer who came up with it (assuming it wasn't Ribeiro, and it may well have been), whoever owns the rights to The Fresh Prince, or someone else? There's also the question of fair use, or in this case, transformative use. Are Fortnite emotes satisfactorily transformative? It looks like Epic and many artists will be trying to answer these and other questions in the months to come, which could have repercussions for referential dance emotes in other games.
In happier Fortnite news, driftboards are on the way, and they look freakin' sweet.