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.

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “One Of The People Suing Fortnite Over 'Stolen' Dance Steps Gets His Dance Rejected By The US Copyright Office”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Captain Slog says:


YEP, this "account" prior comment was Sep 10th, 2010! But here it just blithely pops up!

AND it’s another which can’t keep name straight, back and forth between Krubuntu or Matthew Krum.

27 total now, (3 per year), begun 16 Jul 2008.

Them’s FACTS, kids, and when you try to wave away 8 and half year gap as routine, it’s an additional fact about Techdirt.

Oh, and one more fact: "Krubuntu" helps the highly suspect "Gary" account, which is consistent with my conclusion that Timothy Geigner, aka "Dark Helmet", is Techdirt’s Zombie Master and running both.

Rocky says:


You do know that some people actually have a life? You know, the kind where you actually make something worthwhile with your time, like engaging with your friends, going to movies and all that stuff…

Not everyone can be like you, living a bitter life vicariously on the net by attacking anyone who doesn’t agree with your world-view.

Gary (profile) says:


"Krubuntu" helps the highly suspect "Gary" account

The Highly Suspicious Gary present opinions that are consistently anti-compymax, and anti-cartel. And when anyone agrees they are obviously a tool of google.

Obviously I can’t prove than this account is or isn’t linked to Geiger – but opinion here is that I’m legit and you are a covered in tin foil…

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

OMG!!!!!!!!!!! If we don’t give him protections he won’t make more dances!!!!!!!!!!!

Er wait… I’m okay with this.

It wasn’t valuable until someone else figured out how to make a buck off of it, then it was so important to him.

This literally is the nightmare of the copyright cartels, that something they have might be used to make a dollar they never pursued & they might not get their payday for it. How else can you explain them keeping our culture bereft of a public domain so that new things can be built on our shared culture?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Making money off of culture.

There was an article about the guy who invented BDE (Big Dick Energy) didn’t make a penny when it caught on.

And that is, at least according to him, a bad thing.

It raises the matter that we now assume that one is supposed to get paid when they create culture.

At this point, I am certain we’d be better off abolishing intellectual property than we would be retaining the current system. It’s been entirely subverted and is toxic to our society… and our culture.

AnonyCog says:

For the record, noone can copyright claims of:

Clothing i.e. fashion, Musical Notation before five notes, Fair Use, Information in the Public Domain, Elected officials information, creative commons media sanctioned for public use under credit, vague use of words or language, expression unless driven by intellectual property or trademark, and or parody.

Anything else maybe fair game. This is not intended as legal advice.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Clothing is slowly being destroyed. One cheerleader clothing company owns the idea of the cheerleader uniform in terms of geometric shapes such as chevrons etc and was able to block other firms from making uniforms.

Almost all items you mentioned someone is trying to get changed so they can make a profit or lock people out of the Industry.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Designs printed on clothing are different than clothing designs.

I can’t sell a T-Shirt with the Disney logo on it. That’s Disney’s trademark.

I can, however, sell a dress that is of a pattern identical to one that Disney sells.

Your description sounds like overly broad logo trademarks, not the clothing itself.

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just to point out, anything under Creative Commons is covered by copyright. Creative Commons is not an exception to copyright. CReative Commons is an automatically granted license that the copyright holder has elected to grant to anyone meeting the terms of the license. Without the copyright to back it up, a Creative Commons license is meaningless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Except that you present this backwards, this is somewhat accurate. Is that framing intentional?

CC would not be merely meaningless, but almost wholly unnecessary, if automatic copyright were not a thing. Some less open forms of such licensing do depend on copyright, but the most open forms are entirely predicated upon negating the copyright of licensed items.

Anonymous Coward says:

The usa already has too much copyright on software ,
songs from the 30,s , etc
the copyright on dance is very limited ,
there,s a limited amount of movement one can make
in a dance ,
If there was strict copyright on dance
then it would stifle all future creators of musicals
and dance videos .
Dance creators do not need copyright as an incentive,
no more than software programmers in europe
need software patents as an incentive to make new apps
or programs .
Even in this case he made this dance while appearing
on a tv comedy ,so its in doubt if he is the original
creator of the dance .
See music tv, music video,s ,theres
constantly new dances being shown or created ,everday
without the existance of strict copyright on dance moves.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...