clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Dance can’t be copyrighted, government tells Carlton

Application refused in December; video game company moves to dismiss suit

Build Presents Alfonso Ribeiro Discussing The Show ‘AFV’
Alfonso Ribeiro promoting a television show in 2017
Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Bad news, Carlton. Your namesake dance can’t be copyrighted.

That is according to the U.S. Copyright Office. The ruling was filed in one of two lawsuits the actor Alfonso Ribeiro has brought against video game makers whose characters and avatars perform “The Carlton” — a dance he popularized on the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Take-Two Interactive, the parent company of 2K Sports, whose NBA 2K18’s “So Fresh” ritual (an emote a player may do before tip-off) mimics the dance, included that determination in a motion for dismissal this week. Ribeiro has also sued Epic Games, makers of Fortnite, for featuring the dance as an emote in that game.

A court is not bound by the determination, but it will likely take it into consideration. Ribeiro sought copyright registration for ‘The Carlton” and two variations of the dance on Dec. 14, 2018. He sued Take-Two and Epic three days later.

For two of the dances, a registration supervisor said on Jan. 22 that “the combination of these three dance steps is a simple routine that is not registrable as a choreographic work.”

For a third, the same supervisor noted that Ribeiro had submitted his performance (above) of the dance on Dancing With The Stars in 2014 (of which he was champion that year). That raised questions of whether his dance partner, Witney Carson, was also a choreographer of the dance, or if it was performed under a work-for-hire arrangement with ABC, which would then be the author and copyright owner of the work — at least if this instance was cited as its origin.

For these and other reasons (including that one variation of the dance was created after NBA 2K18 launched in 2017) Take-Two Interactive moved for a dismissal of the case on Wednesday.

David L. Hecht, the attorney for Ribeiro, told The New York Times yesterday that he intended to ask the copyright office to reconsider its judgment. Hecht also represents the Terrance Ferguson, aka the rapper 2 Milly, whose attempt to register the Milly Rock dance was also refused; Hecht will appeal that one too.

Ribeiro portrayed the wealthy and obliviously unhip Carlton Banks on Fresh Prince for all of its six seasons. He first performed the dance in 1991 during the show’s second season, but is more remembered for bringing it back in season 3 to the accompaniment of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.”

His action was one of three dance-related lawsuits brought against the white-hot popular Fortnite back in December. 2 Milly was the first, and Russell “Backpack Kid” Horning’s mother also sued Epic over Fortnite’s use of “Flossing,” a dance he performed in a viral Instagram post. (Hecht also represents Horning and told the Times he was able to register a variant of “The Floss” with the Copyright Office.)

In January, “Orange Shirt Kid’s” mom (Rachel McCumbers) sued Epic on the same grounds (over a dance called “the Random”). Around this time, Forza Horizon 4 developers Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios removed the Carlton and the Floss from that game’s list of emotes.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air airs weekdays on BET and VH1. Check local listings.