Fresh Prince’s Alfonso Ribeiro Is Suing Fortnite Over The Carlton Dance

Fresh Prince’s Alfonso Ribeiro Is Suing Fortnite Over The Carlton Dance

Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, is suing Epic over Fortnite’s replication of his trademark dance move. He’s also suing 2K for doing the same thing in their basketball series.

Ribeiro’s Tom Jones routine is one of the most defining moments in the history of the show, and has bled over into pop culture at large; this YouTube clip of the performance, for example has over 18 million views:

Meanwhile Fortnite’s “Fresh” emote isn’t even tribute, it just straight up lifts it:

As TMZ reports, the move comes as Ribeiro is in the middle of trying to copyright the dance, perhaps because Fortnite isn’t the only game to use it to make money.

He’s also suing 2K because their basketball series has done the same thing; here’s the Carlton in NBA 2K16, for example:

“It is widely recognised 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”, Ribeiro’s lawyer 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.”

What Fortnite's Dance Emotes May Owe To The Black Artists Who Created Them

One of the many purchasable dance emotes in Fortnite is from Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” It’s called the Tidy Emote, and goes for 500 V-Bucks, the equivalent of $US5 in the game’s rotating store. Players who get it can make their character mimic Snoop’s wheel turning gesture from the video’s “park it like it’s hot” chorus.

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The question the courts are being asked here is of course nothing new. Allegations that Epic is profiting from the work of black creatives have been simmering all year, led by artists like Chance The Rapper.

Contacted for comment, Epic told Kotaku “We do not comment on ongoing litigation.”


    • When you create something original you don’t have to go out and “get a copyright”. Your rights exists already.

      • Yes but, the real question is how far does the copyright actually stretch. does it stretch to the whole performance or just a select few movements. Dance is a difficult thing to lay copyright to. any descision here though might set a precedent to determine how far copyright does stretch though.

        • I think the gif explains it well enough. Their is imitation, tribute, and taking some inspiration, and then there is blatantly lifting. This definitely falls under the later, and I think Epic know it, but figure the litigation will be offset by the profits.

        • Choreography has had copyright protection in the US since 1976. It ratified the Berne Convention in 1989, which removed the need to register copyright: instead copyright exists as soon as the work is “fixed” (i.e. written down, recorded, etc).

          So there isn’t anything particularly controversial about him claiming that copyright exists in a dance that first appeared on a 90s TV show. The main questions are (a) whether he actually owns the copyright, and (b) whether Epic’s recreation of the dance is fair use.

          A fair use argument could be kind of difficult, since they appear to have recreated the entire dance, and are selling it on its own commercially.

          • Depends what his contract says, then also if it was adlibbed instead of scripted etc. It can get very messy.

          • Not even sure it being ad-libbed would be enough. He was being paid to do a job, AND was directed to dance in a certain way. His admissions in interviews cover that. In most cases, being paid to do a job means the rights go to the employer. But who was the employer in this case?

            As you say, it can get very messy.

            Any copyright, if it exists, could be the choreographer, could be the studio, could be the director, or could be the performer. Probably close to that order of likelihood. Ribeiro could be considered the choreographer, or just a paid employee.

            Theres no case law to say one way or the other that I’ve seen, which to me says a lot. It suggests that theres no easy answer, given how common this has been over the years. Someone would have tested these waters in the past, yet theres nothing.

          • forget the laws of copyright and all that shit for a second. This is just greed the people suing over this were never going to sell “my dance” in a video game anyway, so it’s money they were never going to make but now they see it made money they want the money.

            pure greed

          • That’s what I was thinking. Unless he came up with it himself I’d have thought the show would have had a choreographer come up with it. And even if he did come up with the dance for the show I’d still expect the company that owns the show to “own” the dance. Looking at comics where creators don’t own their creations the companies do as a prior example.

            As for the dance itself, I really dislike the idea of it being copyrightable.

            I do wonder whether Ribeiro actually contacted them about the dance *before* suing. It seems like the go to move these days is sue first talk later.

          • Epic have shut down any other comments from other people about dances in the past, contacting them is worthless.

          • When I said I wondered whether he’d contacted them I was thinking something along these lines: They could come to an agreement where he endorses the game, does a little add featuring the dance of course, and in turn they pay him some amount. Something mutually beneficial. Instead of making him look “greedy” for suing and them look as though they “stole” the dance.

          • It gets messier when he admits he based it on something else. It was meant to be a generic “white guy” dance, which he based on Courtney Cox’s little effort in the Bruce Springsteen video clip of Dancing In The Dark. Eddie Murphy also did a version in one of his skits that’s remarkably similar.

            So its derivative, which most dance is, no matter who made it famous.

            Take Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. He didn’t invent it. The earliest recording of it being performed was actually Cab Calloway somewhere in the 1030’s (I think. Could be after), with even earlier performances rumoured to have happened as well.

            But it was Jackson that made it famous. Does that mean HE (or his estate) has exclusive rights to its portrayal, simply because it was HIS version people talk about? Of course not.

            This latest round is just people trying to cash in. If there was any real violation with this sort of thing, there would have been numerous court cases in the past, but Professor Google shows none.

            Other example of this is WoW, with its dances all being replica’s of various acts that have been around for decades or longer. If this was a violation, someone would have tried to dip into Blizzards deep pockets at some point in the past, but it hasn’t happened there either.

          • The earliest recording of it being performed was actually Cab Calloway somewhere in the 1030’s (I think. Could be after)
            I think quite a lot after.

          • Copyright can exist in a derivative work though: you just end up with a situation where the creator of the derivative may need permission from the creator of the original to exercise their copyright.

            As for the moonwalk, any of its pre-1976 history would be considered public domain in the US. Jackson would be free to derive from that to create something distinct. But since he was performing before the US ratified the Berne Convention, it would be necessary to publish the steps with a copyright notice and/or register the work with the copyright office. If he didn’t do that, then his work would also be public domain.

          • A choreographer tried to sue Beyonce for using their dance move back in 2010,11 I think it was. It was dismissed. I’m not sure on what grounds.

          • Right. That’s why I said it isn’t controversial that copyright could exist in the dance, but that there would still be question over whether he owned that copyright.

            If he simply performed a dance someone else choreographed, then he definitely isn’t the copyright holder. If he created it but the work was covered by his acting contract it might be considered work for hire and the studio owns it.

          • He may have already been granted permission from the studio, we don’t know. Although it would be pretty stupid to proceed with litigation without the studio’s agreement. I think the main point is that Epic haven’t sought permission to sell the exact same performance from either the studio or the performer. Even the name of the emote ‘Fresh’ suggests it’s a direct copy of the performance in the show.

      • Indeed.

        Well, unless the creator they stole from was white… Then it doesn’t even get mentioned when an article clearly about copyright issues gets turned into a race issue for them sweet, sweet clicks.

      • Did I miss something in my comment to warrant all the downvotes? I feel incredibly dense lol. Was it because I said of colour instead of black and now I am racist somehow? I realize you didn’t vote me down either cheers.

          • Yeah I was actually surprised when I checked on your comment you left with the amount of downvotes I got, just for asking a question. I didn’t feel that I was being racist in any way and choose my words carefully as not to offend, but alas apparently people are more sensitive then I gave credit for lol. Anyway no skin off my teeth and everyone has an opinion thanks for giving the time to write back, CHEERS MERRY CHRISTMAS.

  • Well. Better start suing every other video game and media that features it. Cant just single out fortnite because it’s successful

    • one mitigating factor is the dances themselves are a separate purchase in Fortnite, which will make it much easier to determine if it’s fair use and what the compensation should be if it’s determined that it isn’t a breach of copyright.

      • I wonder whether it’d even be protected anymore. I thought there was an element of protection required. ie: he’d need to sue everyone who was using it in order to protect it. The fact it’s so widely known and performed in public implies it’s lost that protection. Although I might be confusing it with trademarks.

        • You’re thinking of trademarks. Copyrights don’t become genericised. Epic will likely defend that Alfonso Ribeiro doesn’t have a copyright over the dance so can’t claim damages.
          I’m not sure if there’s a case similar to this where anyone has explicitly profited off selling copied dance moves.

          • The number of cases is increasing, this is exactly how you set the precedent.

            Eventually the questions that will start to arise is how much money is Epic making from the dances, how central to that income the dances are and how recognisable those dances are to other I ndividuals.

            Right now Epic has the protection of fair use but when you start making cash hand over fist is when courts become more willing to start looking at things differently.
            Epic is their own worst enemy right now as silly as it sounds.

          • it does sound silly let’s follow the logic here

            well epic games is making money hand over fist so lets give that money to someone who had nothing to do with implementing the dance in the game, animating the dance or marketing the dance. this guy never even had the idea to put this into a game…… PAYDAY!!!

            no its absolute bullshit you either enforce your copyright and nobody even some random 10yo kid in his living room is allowed to do your dance because it YOURS or its free to be used. the only distinction between epic and any other person doing this dance is they made money off it, so it this issue is in fact 100% completely about nothing other than greed.

            none of these people give a shit about stolen copyrights they want money alfonso is a greedy bitch

          • i don’t give a shit what the laws say these assholes only want to enforce it when they can make money, they don’t even care about the law it is 100% about money and you know it.

            slavery was legal once too just because it’s a law doesn’t make it right, my opinion is the people suing Epic are greedy opportunists if you want to argue about that fine but don’t site to the law like it’s infallible to try and refute my opinion.

          • No need to get angry, they will keep shutting down the comment thread if ya do.

            I’m not saying anything is infallible or that your opinion isn’t viable, I’m just saying to read up on the case, the laws that will likely be central to the case and to avoid getting worked up. (Because as I said, they will keep locking out responses when things start getting aggressive)

          • Close they have come. Beyonce yet again sent a cease and desist to an aussie dance school for teaching her dance moves.
            They complied so it never saw a court.

    • Yeah, but suing Bungie over Destiny is like trying to convince a homeless man to give you 5 dollars. I mean, jesus, it’s Christmas… 🙁

    • it all depends, they might have asked for permission and had it granted, or they might not have. to be honest this is one of things that could have massive consequences if he wins not just in games but music and film as well

      • If they had permission they’d just go “We have permission” publicly because it would get a whle lot of heat off them. Also the dude wouldn’t be trying to sue them.

        Why would you think that?

        What consequences would there be in games, film an music? Respecting copyright law as nearly everyone already does?

  • He’s actually got some sweet moves, wish I could dance like that you’d pull every Friday night.

  • have to side with alfonso. The side by ide looks so close its like digital rotoscoping lol.
    And the fact epic have been profiting from selling it means its only fair to compensate him.

  • Backpack Kid has joined the case now too and that’s not good news for Epic.
    It not going away, their options are starting to dwindle and their remaining choices don’t play well for them.

    • Backpack Kid joining is probably better for Epic than it is anyone else, as I believe people dug up video of ‘his’ dance being done by someone years before he did it.

      • Doesn’t matter, the dance is instantly recognisable both to backpack kid and Fornite, there is no question of where Epic got the dance and why it was added.
        (Just like the Carton dance and others.)

        As I said in a post earlier (to the wrong person) this is how precedent gets set and the more artists that stand up to complain, the less ground Epic has to stand on.
        The biggest issues are:
        Fortnite is making a shit ton of money (Not a problem in itself)
        Epic adds viral dances attributed directly to various artists, there is no question of this or where they sourced the dances from. (Also not a big problem as they have fair use protecting them but the money point gives courts more reason to pay attention or begin questioning the validity of the fair use claim in individual cases or in grey areas)
        It’s becoming tough to argue these dances aren’t becoming central to Fortnites identity and even its success and popularity. (Again, not a huge issue alone but coupled with the first two points and there’s a chance courts might humour a trial)
        Finally and most importantly, this is a very grey area, there has been attempts at similar cases in the past but nothing on this scale, it’s getting harder to hide behind existing laws when they weren’t exactly designed for this sort of situation.

        Look I’m not throwing my hat in to anyone’s side on this, just trying to look at from an unbiased position.
        I hear what you saying, it can be tough to judge who created what dance or what version of but its no secret what dances Epic is including.
        (And that isn’t all Epics fault either, it’s not like they set out to profit from it, it’s more a monster they are losing control of but didn’t attempt to stop)

        • Doesn’t matter, the dance is instantly recognisable both to backpack kid and Fornite, there is no question of where Epic got the dance and why it was added.
          I know it’s not what you’re getting at, at least I don’t believe so, but that sort of reads like “They owe the kid because he made it popular, even though there’s evidence it existed before he was even a thing.”

          People can’t advocate for copyright protection for these sorts of things, and then be like “Oh but he is why its popular, so pay him and ignore that it may have been created much earlier by someone else entirely.”

          So if that is the case, should ‘Backpack Kid’ get anything from this the only precedent it says is “You can steal it so long as you make it popular.” And at that point I’d argue Epic has them all beat on that front purely with the reach Fortnite has.

          • Yeah I didn’t mean that exactly, it’s already been covered that some of the dances like the floss and Carltons dance are variations or inspirations of existing dance moves but that isn’t what Epics done, they have replicated the viral dances with no question of their origin, the only difference in most cases is a different name that references the “original” anyway.

            When I say it doesn’t matter I mean specifically to this case between the artists and Epic and you are correct, it could create a precedent that allowed some of the other variations to lay their own claim against backpack kid (for example) and they would also need to show that the dance is a clear and undeniable copy of their own.
            Comparatively it’s a hell of a lot easier to show Epic has copied because they made no attempt to hide it.
            This case seems to be heading for a fair use defence where some of these artists would be able to claim their dances are dirivitive works and then it would come down to if its dirivitive enough or not.
            Alphonsos own admission that his dance is inspired isn’t an admission that he has no claim (I doubt his lawyers are dumb enough to let that one past) I get the impression he’s setting the tone that his is a dirivitive work. (It seems like a smart move to me)
            I don’t put much weight behind the claim that Epic are stealing black culture either but it’s a powerful and influential claim if Epic was dumb enough to (even accidentally) have a clear majority of dances that can be linked to black culture/entertainment, it’s all about setting a tone and getting a foothold that disadvantages the other side.

            It’s certainly complex and this conversation is prob how the lawyers are going to be arguing there cases.
            I’m just not seeing many options for Epic going forward unless they win outright, trying to settle or change the dances enough to be derivative might backfire and could be seen as an admission of guilt by many.

            I won’t pretend to know the outcome but I can bet there will be some subtle changes to what dances get added in the future and how close they are to the originals.
            Gonna be interesting to see.

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