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Carlton Dance Can't Get a Copyright

By George Khoury, Esq. on February 20, 2019 10:15 AM

If you ever watched the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, or even vaguely know about it, one of the things you are likely to know is the Carlton Dance.

Alfonso Ribeiro, also known as Carlton Banks from the 90s hit TV show, and the current host of America's Funniest Home Videos, seems to be losing his fight for copyright protection for his signature comedic dance, which strangely, he wishes people would stop asking him to do. Sadly for Ribeiro, he's learning his copyright woes aren't unusual.

Copyright Questions

Ribeiro sought copyright protection for his signature dance shortly before filing a lawsuit against Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite and Take-Two Interactives, the makers of NBA 2K18. In the game Fortnite, players can purchase dances that they can display while playing the game. One of those dances is named Fresh and seems to be nearly identical to the Carlton. In the other, again, Ribeiro's dance is used.

The copyright examiner apparently had some rather probing questions for Ribeiro about whether his three-move dance was actually just a routine, rather than a "choreographic work." Additionally, questions abound as to whether he is even the rightful owner of the Carlton dance as he created it while working on a network's television program, thus it could have been a work for hire, meaning he would not be the owner of the dance.

Ribeiro's Lawsuit

Despite a potentially lackluster copyright claim, as noted in Forbes shortly after Ribeiro filed, his stronger claims involve violation of his likeness rights under California law. Since the Carlton dance and Ribeiro are so inextricably tied, by using the dance, it's effectively using Ribeiro's likeness.

Notably, in addition to compensatory and punitive damages (and attorney fees and costs), Ribeiro is seeking an injunction barring the use of his likeness and his dance.

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