Alfonso Ribeiro's case against Fortnite creator Epic Games may have just hit a pretty big snag. The U.S. Copyright Office announced earlier this week that they do not believe Ribeiro has the right to copyright his famous "Carlton Dance" from the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The Carlton actor filed a lawsuit back in December against Epic Games and Take-Two Interactive for using his signature dance in Fortnite and NBA 2K, respectively. At the time, Ribeiro was warned that choregraphed dance moves are a hard thing to try and copyright.
Saskia Florence is a supervisory registration specialist for the California federal court in the office's Performing Arts Division. Florence broke down the dance carefully, which actually made the whole case seem a bit ridiculous. Florence stated that the "Carlton Dance" is a "simple dance routine," and that Alfonso Ribeiro's registration should be refused. You can read the full description of the dance below.
"The dancer sways their hips as they step from side to side, while swinging their arms in an exaggerated manner. In the second dance step, the dancer takes two steps to each side while opening and closing their legs and their arms in unison. In the final step, the dancer's feet are still and they lower one hand from above their head to the middle of their chest while fluttering their fingers. The combination of these three dance steps is a simple routine that is not registrable as a choreographic work."
Special features in Fortnite and NBA 2K allow players to unlock the "Carlton Dance," which first debuted on a 1991 Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode. Alfonso Ribeiro's dance moves have become a part of pop culture over the last several years, but the U.S. Copyright Office seems to think that waiting 27 years to claim ownership is a long time to wait. And even so, it looks like if the dance could be owned, it would go to NBC, since that's where the show aired.
Adding further insult to Alfonso Ribeiro and his claim of ownership over the "Carlton Dance," is that he has been seen on camera talking about the inspiration for the routine. The actor admitted to taking the moves from Courtney Cox in the Bruce Springsteen video for 1984's "Dancing in the Dark" and Eddie Murphy. When watching the "Carlton Dance" again, it's clear that most of the choreography is "borrowed" from Cox's stage moves.
This does not spell the end for Alfonso Ribeiro's case, but it doesn't look good. Choreography is notoriously hard to copyright and the actor knew that going in. For the time being, it looks like Fortnite and NBA 2K will more than likely get to keep the "Carlton Dance" in the hit games. However, former Friends actress Courtney Cox may want to get in on this lawsuit action since the dance is pretty much hers. The Hollywood Reporter was the first to reveal the Alfonso Ribeiro news.