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: alfonso ribeiro, carlton, copyright, dance steps, fortnite, us copyright office


Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. icon
    Gary (profile), 20 Feb 2019 @ 4:08pm

    Three Steps

    Three dance steps does not make an expressive work. Especially if you have gone on record as saying you copied Courtney Cox.

    Every creative work build on previous ones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2019 @ 4:40pm

    Is anyone else disturbed by the fact that this court case has exhibits A-L? No wonder copyright lawyers are looked upon with such disgust.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2019 @ 5:04pm

    Don't you just love it when copyright law is actually enforced?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Feb 2019 @ 5:11pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2019 @ 5:12pm

    Re: Re: Three Steps

    And as was stated before, was done on a TV show copyrighted by someone else, so he could very well have no rights to anything from the show.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 20 Feb 2019 @ 5:34pm

    Re: Public Domain

    To be fair, the Public Domain did make a comback this year; copyright is once again expiring (at least everything from 1923)! See here: https://law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2019/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Captain Slog, 20 Feb 2019 @ 6:17pm

    ANOTHER NEW RECORD ZOMBIE: EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP!

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Killercool (profile), 20 Feb 2019 @ 6:33pm

    Re: ANOTHER NEW RECORD ZOMBIE: EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP!

    Remember! Just because everyone's after you, doesn't mean you're not paranoid!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2019 @ 6:38pm

    Re: ANOTHER NEW RECORD ZOMBIE: EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP!

    Your imaginary conspiracy just makes you look so, so sad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Rocky, 20 Feb 2019 @ 6:45pm

    Re: ANOTHER NEW RECORD ZOMBIE: EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP!

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    AnonyCog, 20 Feb 2019 @ 7:30pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2019 @ 7:50pm

    Re: Re: ANOTHER NEW RECORD ZOMBIE: EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP!

    it will be fun when i find my login on the drive from my dead computer and stop commenting anonymously.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Paul Brinker, 21 Feb 2019 @ 12:51am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 1:10am

    Re: EIGHT AND HALF YEARS OF YOUR BULLSHIT

    I think you tinfoil hat is on a bit tight today bro.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 1:56am

    Re: ANOTHER NEW RECORD ZOMBIE: EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP!

    I'm going to sign-in in about three years from now. I will be very upset if you decline to mention my record ten year absence.

    By the way, is captain slog a pirate? Sum bees want to know

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 2:05am

    Re:

    Now you know why we have auto copyright with no need to register

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 2:26am

    Re: ANOTHER NEW RECORD ZOMBIE: EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP!

    You really should find a hobby. Having so much free time on your hands isn't healthy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 5:11am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 5:42am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    Gary (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 5:52am

    Re: ANOTHER NEW RECORD ZOMBIE: EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP!

    "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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    TFG, 21 Feb 2019 @ 6:17am

    Re: Re: ANOTHER NEW RECORD ZOMBIE: EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP!

    Gary, is this you?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Oldman

    I think this is you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 8:48am

    [Nelson Muntz Ha Ha .jpg]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 10:22am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 11:23am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 11:36am

    Re: Re: Re: ANOTHER NEW RECORD ZOMBIE: EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP!

    What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 21 Feb 2019 @ 11:43am

    Then again, the dab

    On the other hand, if the dab is patented, maybe people will stop doing it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2019 @ 2:30pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

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



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

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



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.