Can You Copyright a Dance Move Like ‘the Carlton?’

Alfonso Ribeiro and Will Smith | Alfonso Ribeiro Instagram

The next time you bust out an inspiring dance move at a wedding, don’t get too salty if someone copies it. Unless of course, you’ve named the dance. And are famous for it. That means outside the local wedding circuit.

Most recently, actor Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air launched a lawsuit against the creators of Fortnite and NBA 2K, NBC News reports. Ribeiro alleges Fortnite-maker Epic Games and 2K Sports-creator Take-Two Interactive blatantly copied his special dance.  A dance that his character often did on the show.

Ribeiro’s lawyer David L. Hecht says the similarities between his client’s character and the game are far too uncanny. “It is widely recognized 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 isn’t the first to issue a complaint over someone using his signature moves. Plus what does it take to copyright or trademark a dance?

Others have sued over a dance

Ribeiro isn’t the first person to sue over rights to a signature dance. The “Backpack Kid” from Instagram who introduced “The Floss” filed complaints. Complaints were against two publishers who used his dance, NBC News reports. He also performed the dance on Saturday Night Live when Katy Perry performed.

Also, rapper 2 Milly issued a lawsuit also against Epic Games for misappropriation of his dance “Milly Rock.” This dance too was featured in Fortnite too. Currently, Ribeiro is in the process of copyrighting “the Carlton.”

What makes a dance your property?

This is how you know a dance move can (or can’t) be trademarked. “Dance moves themselves are not trademarkable because they are not used to identify where goods or services originate, unlike a logo, slogan, or brand name.” according to the Law Office of Eric Norton.

You can trademark a dance move as long as the name of the move is trademarked. Eric Norton uses the concept of “Tebowing” or “Kaepernicking” as an example. “Two registered trademarks for celebratory touchdown poses that are now trademarked for various types of clothes and apparel.”

It comes down to money

When money is made off a dance. That’s when people likely issue a complaint. “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,” Ribeiro’s lawyer David L. Hecht continued in a statement. “Therefore, Mr. Ribeiro is seeking his fair and reasonable share of profits Epic has earned by use of his iconic intellectual property in ‘Fortnite’ and as a result is requesting through the courts that Epic cease all use of Mr. Ribeiro’s signature dance.”

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