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Alfonso Ribeiro Sues Fortnite & NBA 2K Devs For Stealing The Carlton Dance

Can you copyright a dance?

With the staggering popularity of Fortnite Battle Royale, a lot of people have been very critical of the way that this and other games source their emotes and dances. The problem is that through microtransactions to purchase these, companies are directly profiting from the creative efforts of primarily black American and other minority artists without properly crediting them.

It’s seemingly about to come to a head. A few weeks after rapper 2 Milly sued both companies for the ‘Milly Rock’ dance, Alfonso Ribeiro, the actor who’s most famous for his role as Carlton in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has also filed suits against Epic Games and 2K Games for their use of the ‘Carlton Dance’ that he came up with on the show – he’s also filing for a copyright on his dance.

You all know the one, but here it is, anyway:

Fortnite and NBA 2K are the ones in the firing line right now, but don’t be surprised if other game companies get caught up in Ribeiro’s lawsuits. One of the first examples I can remember that drew upon the Carlton Dance was Destiny: The Taken King, which introduced more dances into the game alongside microtransactions, once of which was ‘Enthusiastic Dance’.

The simple laziness of how they rebrand the emotes is just another galling part of this, because it reattributes the creative process to the developer for those that do not understand the context – young kids simply know these dances from Fortnite, not that ‘Fresh’ comes from Ribeiro or that ‘Swipe It’ is 2 Milly’s Millie Rock. The companies drew criticism for this earlier this year, with several artists coming up with creative solutions to the problem of representation:

Ribeiro is putting into action the prevalent suggestion that artists should sue for compensation from game companies, something which was discussed in this quite fascinating video from Insider:

Source: TMZ, Twitter, Insider

8 Comments
  1. 3shirts
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    That Insider video is great. It’s a real tricky situation.

    On the one hand I can see what the Copyright Office is saying, how short a dance sequence can you realistically copyright before you are basically copyrighting movement? But on the other hand, 2 Milly has a very good point that Fortnight is CLEARLY profiting from these dance moves. I’d be interested to see the income breakdown for individual emotes but there is no way Epic want that information to get out.

    I think some human judgement is needed by The Copyright Office. That kid in the video can immediately tell that Snoop’s dance is the one in Fortnight, so it’s disingenuous for Epic, or anyone looking at copyrighting it, to say it’s not the same thing or isn’t unique enough.

    Comment posted on 18/12/2018 at 11:38.
    • ron_mcphatty
      Member
      Since: Sep 2008

      Disingenuous is the word, you hit the nail on the head. I agree with the points about a dance being copyrighted, I don’t know how Michael Jackson’s moon walk stands now but I’m sure there was a similar argument in the nineties about it’s unsanctioned reuse in music videos, but the profiting point is as clear as day. It’s fundamentally wrong to sell someone else’s creation without asking first, I’m sure most of us non-lawyers can agree on that, and doing so won’t earn you brownie points with any of your customers.

      Comment posted on 18/12/2018 at 13:37.
  2. MrYd
    Member
    Since: Mar 2011

    Inevitable, really. Thing becomes massive, people want some of the money from that thing and invent ridiculous reasons to try and get some. And seemingly trying to make it something about race too.

    How much money do Epic and 2K have? Enough to put a bunch of lawyers in “fuck off and stop being a bunch of greedy muppets” mode?

    Comment posted on 18/12/2018 at 12:59.
    • Tuffcub
      On the naughty step.
      Since: Dec 2008

      It’s not ridiculous at all, they copied the dance. If they had copied a song, or some lyrics, or a story, they would have to pay for it.

      Why should a dance, which a creative medium just the same as the written word or music, be any different?

      Comment posted on 18/12/2018 at 14:29.
      • Stefan L
        Community Team
        Since: May 2009

        It’s on the level of sampling. People will take a short 2, 3 second snippet of a guitar riff and have to pay royalties on it, so when it’s such a distinctive snippet of a dance that’s part of a performance and being used to profit from by others, they should pay royalties as well. Kanye paid for “21st century schizoid man” as a loop, and while a certain generation might not be aware of its origins, he will have paid for the privilege. It’s made worse by the fact that Epic, 2K etc. aren’t even vaguely trying to be transformative.

        Comment posted on 18/12/2018 at 14:56.
      • MrYd
        Member
        Since: Mar 2011

        You can’t really compare it to a song or a story, can you? They take actual creative effort and skill. A dance? Not even close.

        Comment posted on 18/12/2018 at 15:37.
      • Stefan L
        Community Team
        Since: May 2009

        I’ve tried dancing in the past. I can confirm that dancing takes creative effort and skill.

        Comment posted on 19/12/2018 at 13:06.
      • MrYd
        Member
        Since: Mar 2011

        Not convinced. Most dancing seems to be an accidental thing due to enough drink or drugs.

        But it’s 1 tiny little bit of a dance a lawyer has discovered might make them some money anyway. Does that involve any skill?

        Compare it to a song. Obviously a whole song should be able to be copyrighted. Someone put the skill and effort involved into making it. And there are slightly confusing rules about how other people can take that work and make money from it while compensating whoever did it in the first place.

        But this isn’t like a whole song. Or even sampling a bit of a song. It’s more like saying “I wrote a song with this particular chord in, and so I insist on some money”. Is playing a single chord difficult? Depends on the chord and the instrument. It’d take about 5 seconds to show someone how to play an Em7 on a guitar. It involves 1 finger, and I’m sure everyone could strum the strings successfully first time. Retune 1 string and you don’t even need that finger. Drop the guitar on the floor and you’d accidentally play that chord.

        So a single chord that involves no real skill and is used all over the place can’t be copyrighted. The exact same thing should apply to half a second of moving your body in a fairly random way.

        Unless you’re a lawyer, obviously. Which is pretty much why we can’t have nice things.

        Comment posted on 19/12/2018 at 14:34.

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