One Of The People Suing Fortnite Over 'Stolen' Dance Steps Gets His Dance Rejected By The US Copyright Office
from the rare-men-without-hats-b-side-'the-unprotectable-dance' dept
A handful of semi-famous people rang in the New Year by bringing copyright infringement lawsuits against online gaming juggernaut, Fortnite. The plaintiffs all accused Fortnite’s developers of swiping their dances to use as sellable “emotes” for players’ avatars.
There were several problems with these lawsuits, not the least of which were the claims Fortnite infringed on uncopyrightable dance steps. While the copyright office is willing to extend protection to choreographed dances with sufficiently complex steps, the dances at the center of these lawsuits hardly met the bar for protected creativity.
That leads to one of the other problems: while statutory damages were threatened in the lawsuits, none of the plaintiffs appeared to have secured copyright protection for their dance steps before filing their lawsuits. The one filed by Alfonso Ribeiro — targeting Fortnite’s use of the “Carlton Dance” — mentioned he had filed a registration for his dance but hadn’t actually been granted any protection yet.
Ribeiro spoke both too late and too soon. Can’t seek statutory damages without a registration. And you can’t use a registration as leverage for a settlement if the US Copyright Office doesn’t find your dance sufficiently creative.
The U.S. Copyright Office is skeptical about Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor Alfonso Ribeiro’s ownership claim over the signature “Carlton Dance,” which became famous after a 1991 episode of the Will Smith series.
In correspondence last month that was surfaced on Wednesday in California federal court, Saskia Florence, a supervisory registration specialist in the Office’s Performing Arts Division, told Ribeiro’s attorney that registration must be refused because his claimed “choreographic work” was a “simple dance routine.”
If you’ve ever wanted to hear the Carlton Dance dryly described in embarrassing detail, the correspondence [PDF] from the Copyright Office has you covered:
The work submitted for registration with this application consists of a simple routine made up of three dance steps, the first of which is popularly known as “The Carlton.” See Compendium (Third) § 309.2 (noting that the Office may take administrative notice of facts or matters known to the Office or the general public). 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.
This recitation is too much. Ribeiro’s dance is too little. Application refused.
Ribeiro can certainly continue with his lawsuit, but this decision isn’t going to make it any easier to win. The only leverage he might have had was a successful registration. If the copyright office doesn’t find his dance protectable, it’s unlikely a federal court is going to decide any infringement took place.