Alfonso Riberio's 'Carlton Dance' was a comic staple of 1990s hit The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air but the actor is not amused by what he says is illegal appropriation of his moves in two popular video games.
On 17 December, Riberio launched separate legal actions against Epic Games, makers of Fortnite and Take-Two Interactive, who make the NBA2k games.
Both games feature what Riberio says is his ‘Carlton Dance’, which he made popular as the foppish Carlton Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where his character would dance to Tom Jones’ ‘It’s Not Unusual’, sometimes employing a candlestick as a pretend microphone.
Side-by-side footage of the ‘Carlton Dance’ and the Fortnite avatars dancing suggest the latter was directly copied from his movements.
Riberio says his signature dance was used without any permission or credit in both instances. He is seeking an order preventing the games from using the dance. He also said he is in the process of obtaining copyright protection for the dance.
— Complex (@Complex) December 17, 2018
Is Riberio’s dance protected by copyright law?
Despite first appearing back in 1991, the popularity of the ‘Carlton Dance’ shows no sign of waning. A video of the dance on YouTube has racked up more than 19 million views.
Riberio’s lawsuit alleges both direct and contributory copyright infringement, violation of his right of publicity under both Calfornian state and common law and unfair competition.
US copyright law explicitly extends to “pantomine and choreography” but Riberio’s case would likely turn on whether the relatively simple movements of his famous dance are defined as choreography for the purposes of the legislation.
In a 2015 case, a Ninth Circuit court rejected an argument that a sequence of 26 yoga poses and two breathing exercises could be protected as choreography under copyright law.
Riberio’s lawyer said his client’s work had been unfairly exploited. “It is widely recognized that Mr. Ribeiro’s likeness and intellectual property have been misappropriated by Epic Games in the most popular video game currently in the world, Fortnite”, he told TMZ.
“Epic has earned record profits off of downloadable content in the game, including emotes like ‘Fresh.’ Yet Epic has failed to compensate or even ask permission from Mr. Ribeiro for the use of his likeness and iconic intellectual property.”
— Complex (@Complex) December 17, 2018
Epic Games has been accused of appropriating a number of famous dances
While Riberio’s legal action seems novel, it is not the first time Epic Games and Take-Two Interactive have faced lawsuits for allegedly stealing dances.
Brooklyn Rapper 2 Milly sued Fortnite maker Epic Games for allegedly using his ‘Milly Rock’ move. The dance had also been homaged by other musicians and athletes but 2 Milly decided enough was enough when it turned up in the mega-popular survival game. As with Riberio’s dance, players even had to pay for the dance as an ’emote’ in an in-game microtransaction.
“Everybody was just like, ‘Yo, your dance is in the game,’” 2 Milly told a CBS News reporter.
Dear fortnite… I’m flattered? Though part of me thinks I should talk to a lawyer…
— Donald Faison (@donald_faison) April 1, 2018
Scrubs actor Donald Faison also accused Fortnite of stealing the dance he did to Bel Biv DeVoe’s ‘Poison’. “If you want to see it, you can play Fortnite, because they jacked that s***!,” he told the audience at the Vulture festival.
“I don’t get no money,” he continued. “That’s what y’all are thinking, right? Somebody got paid? No, no. I did not. Somebody stole that s***, and it’s not mine no more.”
Faison had also previously tweeted about the apparent appropriation in March, when he wrote: “Dear fortnite … I’m flattered? Though part of me thinks I should talk to a lawyer.”
Chance The Rapper has also voiced his concerns over the alleged appropriation of dances by Epic Games. “Black creatives created and popularized these dances but never monetized them,” he wrote on Twitter.