It seems that some kind of lawsuit movement has started. Earlier this month, news spread about how Epic Games, the studio behind the popular online battle royale game “Fortnite,” is being sued by Brooklyn-based rapper 2 Milly for using a version of the “Milly Rock” dance in Fortnite without his consent. Well that initial lawsuit may have started a chain reaction because now other famous people are getting on board the Fortnite lawsuit bandwagon.
Alfonso Ribeiro, the actor who played ‘Carlton’ from the hit 90s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” is also suing Epic Games over their emulation of his popular dance from the show, which is commonly known as “The Carlton” Dance. The dance, which is called ‘Fresh’ within the game, is an emote that players can purchase to make their characters perform the dance within the game.
Ribeiro isn’t discriminating against Epic though. The actor named Take Two Interactive, which is the publisher of the NBA 2K video game franchise, in the lawsuit as well. The popular basketball video game franchise also uses a version of ‘The Carlton’ dance in their games, but in NBA 2K18, the dance is called “So Fresh.” Ribeiro stated that both Epic and Take Two have “unfairly profited” from using his likeness and his “protected creative expression” in their games.
The dance isn’t without its own inspiration though. Ribeiro himself had mentioned in the past that the dance was inspired both by a dance performed by Bruce Springsteen in his music video “Dancing in the Dark” (see 3:30), as well as from Eddie Murphy’s “White People Can’t Dance” segment from his older comedy shows.
In the complaint, Ribeiro mentions that the ‘Carlton’ dance was first performed during the 1991 Christmas episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and claims that even though it is “Twenty-seven years later, the dance remains distinctive, immediately recognizable, and inextricably linked to Ribeiro’s identity, celebrity, and likeness.” Ribeiro also claims that “Epic intentionally induces others to perform these dances and mark them with those hashtags, which give attribution to and endorse Fortnite the game,” and further contends that “Epic has consistently sought to exploit African-American talent, in particular in Fortnite, by copying their dances and movements and sell them through emotes.”
While many would argue that there’s no doubt that ‘The Carlton’ dance move is indivisibly tied to Ribeiro, as an actor on the show who performed the dance, it still does not mean that he is guaranteed to win this case. As we previously mentioned, it is generally not possible to copyright dances under U.S. Copyright law. Even closely associating a dance with a particular individual does not then make the dance a “trademark” under U.S. trademark law.
Ribeiro, along with other plaintiffs suing Epic, including 2 Milly and Backpack Kid, are all being represented by the same law firm, Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht. In addition to an unspecified amount of damages, Ribeiro wants to halt the sale or inclusion of his dance in both games. David L. Hecht, Ribeiro’s lawyer, gave an official statement about the case, stating that Epic had “earned record profits (from) downloadable content in (Fortnite), including emotes. Yet Epic has failed to compensate or even ask permission from Mr. Ribeiro for the use of his likeness and iconic intellectual property.”
As it currently stands, neither Epic nor Take Two have released a statement on the lawsuits. Regardless of whoever wins, the decision made by the court on this case will have a revolutionary impact on the entertainment industry as a whole.