Fresh Prince’ Star Alfonso Ribeiro Sues ‘Fortnite’ Developer Over ‘The Carlton’ Dance
Alfonso Ribeiro, the actor who played Carlton Banks on ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’, is suing Epic Games, the creator of the wildly popular ‘Fortnite: Battle Royale’ video game. The lawsuit centers on Ribeiro’s famous dance move known as ‘The Carlton’ which Epic Games has included as a microtransaction in ‘Fortnite’.
Ribeiro also names Take Two Interactive, the publisher of ‘NBA 2K’, in the lawsuit. The popular basketball video game also uses The Carlton. In ‘NBA 2k’ the dance is called “So Fresh” and in ‘Fortnite’ it’s called “Fresh”. Both are obvious nods to the 90’s sitcom. Ribeiro is seeking to prevent the sale or inclusion of the dance in both games as well as damages.
The suit follows other, similar lawsuits from rapper 2 Milly over his dance move the “Milly Rock” and Russell Horning, aka the Backpack Kid, over his dance the “Floss” which ‘Fortnite’ helped make famous. The developer has added other user-created dances to the game, including Orange Justice, a fan favorite from a competition Epic held to find new dance moves from the community.
Interestingly, all these plaintiffs are being represented by the same firm, Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht.
Fresh Prince star suing Epic Games
According to the lawsuit, Ribeiro first performed the dance move during the 1991 Christmas episode of ‘Fresh Prince’. “Twenty-seven years later, The Dance remains distinctive, immediately recognizable, and inextricably linked to Ribeiro’s identity, celebrity, and likeness,” the lawsuits reads.
“Epic intentionally induces others to perform these dances and mark them with those hashtags, which give attribution to and endorse Fortnite the game,” the lawsuit also states. “Epic has consistently sought to exploit African-American talent, in particular in Fortnite, by copying their dances and movements and sell them through emotes.”
‘Fortnite: Battle Royale’ is a free-to-play game, but Epic sells cosmetic items including myriad dance moves through its in-game Item Shop. The game was earning hundreds of millions per month during 2018, with tens of millions of active players around the globe and an unusually high microtransaction attach rate.
Here’s “The Carlton” move in action:
And here it is in ‘Fortnite’:
For his part, Ribeiro says Epic Games and Take Two have “unfairly profited” from using his likeness and his “protected creative expression.” There’s no doubt that the dance move is inextricably tied to Ribeiro as an actor; however, it’s not clear that dance moves can be protected by copyright, unlike more elaborate choreographies.
It’s also unclear that Ribeiro can lay claim to the dance despite popularizing it, though . He’s said in the past that it was inspired by both Bruce Springsteen’s dance in ‘Born To Run’ as well as Eddie Murphy’s “White People Dance.”
You can see Springsteen do the dance at around the 3:25 mark in the below video:
And Eddie Murphy busts out his own moves at around the 40 second mark in the below (NSFW) video:
However, simply being influenced by predecessors does not necessarily mean a work cannot be original. “Simply because a choreographer has been influenced by predecessors (as common in dance as in other art forms) does not preclude sufficient originality for copyright protection,” writes Julie Van Camp in her paper ‘Copyright of Choreographic Works’. Whether “The Carlton” can be classified as a choreographic work remains to be seen; the law is far from clear on the matter.
The outcome of these lawsuits could have wide-reaching consequences for the entertainment industry as a whole, especially if Ribeiro, 2 Milly and the Backpack Kid (among others) are successful. One can imagine a whole host of issues rising up out of this if suddenly single dance moves can be copyrighted. I’m dubious that this outcome would be beneficial for the entertainment industry as a whole. Imagine attempting to choreograph a dance routine when every individual move has some copyright holder waiting in the wings?
On the other hand, regardless of the legal repercussions or precedents, companies like Epic Games and Take Two are nevertheless profiting from the work and creativity of others. There are ethical considerations here that shouldn’t be ignored. It might be time for these companies to reconsider using these moves without compensating their originators, regardless of the current law, or to simply come up with more original emotes rather than leaning on the work of others. After all, it isn’t as though Epic Games is using these moves as part of a larger choreographed work; rather, the company is selling the moves individually.
One way or another, it will be fascinating to watch all of this shake out. As is customary, neither Epic Games or Take Two Interactive are commenting on these lawsuits.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.