On The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Carlton Banks was an uptight dweeb who was nowhere near as cool as his Philly-born-and-raised cousin. Still, there was one thing that Carlton had that dazzled. It wasn’t his wealth, education, or snotty attitude. It was his dance. The Carlton was a dance of pure excitement, made iconic by actor Alfonso Ribeiro. Which is why Ribeiro is suing the creator of the online game Fortnite for stealing his moves.
This isn’t the first time Fortnite has been confronted over stealing dance moves. Rapper 2 Milly is also suing Fortnite maker Epic Games, seeking an injunction and punitive damages for using his Milly Rock dance without clearance.
Backpack Kid, whose signature move became a sensation thanks to a performance with Katy Perry on Saturday Night Live, is suing for Fortnite’s use of The Floss.
Scrubs’ Donald Faison has complained publicly that he’s receiving no payment for Fortnite’s use of his Poison dance. At Vulture Fest, he told the audience “They jacked that shit!”
And Chance The Rapper has spoken out about this brewing controversy, offering a solution that would compensate some artists.
Fortnite should put the actual rap songs behind the dances that make so much money as Emotes. Black creatives created and popularized these dances but never monetized them. Imagine the money people are spending on these Emotes being shared with the artists that made them— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) July 13, 2018
It’s pretty clear Fortnite is biting dance moves and thereby profiting off in-game purchases inspired by the creative work of others. But what’s less clear is if that’s actually illegal. THR notes that choreography is subject to copyright law, but dance moves are rarely registered. And there are exceptions for “social dance steps and simple routines.”
Per the U.S. Copyright Office:
Registrable choreographic works are typically intended to be executed by skilled performers before an audience. By contrast, uncopyrightable social dances are generally intended to be performed by members of the public for the enjoyment of the dancers themselves. Social dances, simple routines, and other uncopyrightable movements cannot be registered as separate and distinct works of authorship, even if they contain a substantial amount of creative expression.
Examples of social dances not protected by copyright include
• Ballroom dances
• Folk dances
• Line dances
• Square dances
• Swing dances
I’m no lawyer, but this seems bad news for all the artists whose moves are being snatched by Fortnite.