Copyright And Dance Moves

by Goeun Son

“Fortnite”, an online game developed by Epic Games, has been a popular topic talked about not only among excited teenagers in school, but also among outside school because of a series of lawsuits for controversial dance moves in the game.

Alfonso Ribeiro, who starred in “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” as Carlton Banks, brought a lawsuit against Epic Games, claiming that the online game copied his “The Carlton Dance”. He said that the online game capitalized on his celebrity and popularity by selling The Dance as an in-game purchase in “Fortnite” under the name ‘Fresh,’ which players can buy to customize their avatars for use in the game”. His dance was on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars in 2014 and at a celebrity golf tournament in 2016 alongside Justin Timberlake. Ribeiro supported his claim by alleging that Epic Games has consistently exploited African-American talent by copying their dances such as Snoop Dogg, Will Smith and Donald Faison. So his lawsuit involves copyright infringement, the right of publicity and unfair competition.

Focusing on his copyright infringement claim, copyright protection extends to artistic works, which are not limited to texts such as poetry and novels, and movies. As long as the dance you’ve created is original and you haven’t copied it from somebody else, the dance move can be also copyrighted. I think there is an issue over the originality of “The Carlton Dance”. True, many people would be able to relate Ribeiro to the dance since the show in which he played was well known and he is still on TV with the dance as he claimed in the complaint that dance remains distinctive, immediately recognizable, and “inextricably linked” to his identity, celebrity, and likeness.

However, a concern may arise when he has made comments in the past about having “stole” his moves from an old Bruce Springsteen video when asked to “dance like a super white person” on “Fresh Prince Of Bel Air”. While the standard of proving an originality is very low, if the statement is true unless it was made in some context as a joke, his copyright might become invalid due to the lack of an originality.

By the way, this lawsuit followed Rapper 2 Milly already sued Epic Games over his “Milly Rock” dance. If Epic Games wants to prevent a suit after a suit from being brought against them, they would want to take out those dances at issue or license the dances, which is the safest way when creating works, and what plaintiffs might want for loyalties.

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