California Intellectual Property Blog


Fortnite Copyright Lawsuits Hurt by Copyright Office Denial

San Diego – Performers have been suing video game creators lately for copying dance moves. Among them are rapper 2 Milly and Alfonso Ribeiro, the actor who played Carlton on the popular show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. In unison with the lawsuit, Ribeiro filed a copyright application for the Carlton Dance made popular on the TV show. The United States Copyright Office has now responded by denying the application.

Alfonso Ribeiro is claiming that Fortnite maker Epic Games committed copyright infringement by making his exact dance available in the video game. In preparation for the lawsuit, Ribeiro has submitted three applications to have the dance copyrighted, but two have now been rejected, and one is still pending consideration. According to his copyright lawyer, he is not the first person to apply to copyright a short dance. Russell Horning, also known as Backpack Kid, was able to register a short dance called the floss with the copyright office.

The United States Copyright Office says the Ribeiro dance is too short and simple to justify copyright protection. Ribeiro’s copyright attorney says they will ask the copyright office to re-consider the decision. Their argument for copyright registration is that while the individual dance moves may be simple, they have been arranged into a more complex choreographed performance.

The copyright office’s decision to refuse the application for short dance moves is akin to the fact that short phrases also cannot be copyrighted. To receive copyright protection, there must be a minimum amount of creativity. Short phrases such as titles are uncopyrightable because they contain an insufficient amount of authorship. The Copyright Office will not register individual words or brief combinations of words, even if the word or short phrase is novel, distinctive, or lends itself to a play on words.

The decision to deny the copyright application for the Carlton Dance will have a large impact on the case. If the decision stands, it will likely end the lawsuit. Along with damaging the Ribeiro case, the decision could also damage 2 Milly’s lawsuit against Epic Games. 2 Milly’s dance move in question is called the “Milly Rock”. It is a simple two-step dance in which the arms circle while the hips swing from side to side. Other video game creators, such as Forza Horizon developer Playground Games, have decided to remove familiar dances from their video games to avoid legal action from performers.


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