U.S. Copyright Office says Alfonso Ribeiro can't register his famed "Carlton" dance

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

"The Carlton" dance is iconic. But the U.S. Copyright Office says "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" star Alfonso Ribeiro cannot copyright the dance move. Ribeiro sued a video game company last year after the dance he invented for his character, Carlton, were used in NBA 2K16.

Ribeiro claimed Take-Two Interactive, the makers of the game, illegally copied "the Carlton," a series of geeky dance moves in which "the dancer sways their hips as they step from side to side, while swinging their arms in an exaggerated manner," as the Copyright office describes it.

Riberio, who played Will Smith's straight-laced cousin Carlton Banks in the 90's sitcom, is also suing Epic Games over the use of the dance in Fortnite. Several rappers are also suing Epic Games over use of their dance moves.

"The Carlton" is one of more than 100 dances players can buy for their characters in the widely popular video game. At around $5 per dance, it's earned the game creators hundreds of millions of dollars, reports CBS News' Vladimir Duthiers.

Choreography can be copyrighted, but the U.S. Copyright Office determined "the Carlton" represents a "simple dance routine" rather than a work of choreography. The Associated Press reports a hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled for March 18.

I've never known professional dancers to sue over specific dance moves, but choreography, yes. The Martha Graham company once lost the rights to perform it's own repertoire during a copyright dispute with their namesake's heir. The company eventually won & got to keep its name. https://t.co/NjcsEmdOAK

— Christina Ruffini (@EenaRuffini) December 18, 2018

In a lawsuit, Ribeiro alleges Fortnite used his dance without permission or compensation — and he isn't the only artist to file suit against the game's creators. Instagram star "Backpack Kid" is also suing Epic Games for allegedly using his dance, called "the Floss." Rapper 2 Milly has also filed a suit over his dance, "the Milly rock."

First published on February 15, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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