It’s not unusual to see video game makers include pop culture Easter eggs in their wares as a fun bonus for players. In fact, Epic Games, the studio behind the massively successful “Fortnite” series has made billions selling goofy add-ons like special outfits and dance animations to gamers. However, a new lawsuit threatens to change that long-standing tradition.
On Dec. 18, it was reported that “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s” Alfonso Ribeiro is suing Epic and Take-Two Interactive Software subsidiary, 2K Sports, for using his iconic Carlton dance in “Fortnite” and the “NBA 2K” franchise without permission, credit, or payment. In several episodes of the classic ‘90s sitcom, Ribeiro’s character Carlton Banks performed an absurdly enthusiastic dance routine to Tom Jones’ 1965 track, “It’s Not Unusual.”
Ribeiro’s attorneys are contending that Epic and 2K misappropriated the actor’s intellectual property by featuring the Carlton dance in their games. In “Fortnite,” a Carlton-esque Emote called “Fresh” is available for purchase in the game’s store. And a dance animation that has been compared to Ribeiro’s signature shuffle has been included in the NBA 2K series since 2015.
Rapper 2 Milly and Backpack Kid Also Taking Dance-Related Legal Action
Although the “Dancing with the Stars” winner is the biggest name taking major game studios to court over supposed dance appropriation, he’s not the only one. Earlier this month, Terrance “2 Milly” Ferguson filed suit against Epic for unlicensed use of a two-step dance he popularized called Milly Rock. A Milly Rock-style Emote called “Swipe It” was made available by Epic as part of the Fortnite’s Battle Pass Season 5 earlier this year.
Similarly, the mother of viral video, star Russell Horning, better known as Backpack Kid, is suing Epic and 2K Sports for unauthorized use of his Floss dance. Horning rose to prominence in mid-2016 after videos of him flossing began racking up millions of views.
In May 2017, the 16-year-old was invited to dance on “Saturday Night Live” during a Katy Perry performance. Epic began selling a Fortnite Emote called “The Floss” in late 2017 as part of the Battle Pass Season 2 and the dance was also offered in “NBA 2K18” and “NBA 2K19.”
And though he’s yet to take his grievances to the courts, rapper James “BlocBoy JC” Baker has taken to Twitter to chastise Epic for using his “shoot dance” in Fortnite without credit or payment. And “Scrubs” star Donald Faison has expressed frustration with Epic for using a dance routine his character Turk performed as an Emote. However, he also noted on Twitter that no lawsuit would be forthcoming.
The Springsteen/Murphy Connection
While these lawsuits might have the chilling effect of making future video games as dance-free as that town in “Footloose,” there is a good reason to think these litigants will not prevail in court.
For one thing, it’s been pointed out that the Copyright Act of 1976 protects whole choreographed works, not individual dance steps. It should be noted that neither Ribeiro nor Backpack Kid holds copyrights on their respective dances, but their representatives said they are currently pursuing them.
Moreover, Ribeiro may also have trouble establishing his claims due to his past statements about the Carlton dance. Ribeiro has admitted that its creation was inspired by the rhythm-less dancing of Bruce Springsteen and Courteney Cox in the Boss’s 1984 music video for “Dancing in the Dark.” He also explained that a bit from Eddie Murphy’s 1987 stand-up special “Raw,” about how awkwardly white people dance, was an influence.
So, unless Ribeiro is able to convince Springsteen, Cox, and Murphy to join his suit, he is unlikely to prevail. However, he might want to try his luck going after Warner Bros. for making “Magic Mike,” which rips-off the concept of a male stripper that Ribeiro invented in a painfully erotic 1992 episode of “Fresh Prince.”