Alfonso Ribiero’s iconic dance won’t be officially owned by him anytime soon.
The U.S. Copyright Office has refused to register the “Carlton Dance” routine — one made famous by Ribiero’s character of the same name in a 1991 episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the denial will halt any impending lawsuits against Take-Two Interactive and Epic Games, two companies that used the dance in their games. Ribiero filed a lawsuit with Epic Games in December of 2018 for them having allegedly employed the dance in Fortnite. The gaming company denied these assertions, stating that the dance in the game was “more complex” than Ribiero’s dance.
Take-Two Interactive utilized a similar dance in NBA 2K16, and is now joining Epic Games in seizing any further action on the lawsuit. The company states that the movements of the dance are simply not protected, and the fact that it premiered on a national television show initially is further evidence against Ribiero’s claim. The company then describes the dance, which involves the dancer “swaying their hips from side to side, while swinging their arms in an exaggerated manner.”
The 47-year-old actor admitted that while he did create the dance for the hit 1990s show, he didn’t register the dance with the Copyright Office. The Hollywood Reporter mentions in its reportage that the dance is actually owned by NBC, which would not make the author eligible to own the dance himself. His decision to perform the dance when he appeared on Season 19 of Dancing With the Stars was also brought into question.
“Since Mr. Ribeiro performs a choreographic work with his professional dance partner, Witney Carson, and internet sources indicate that most of the professional dancers on this program create the choreography for their celebrity partner, we question whether the application names the correct author or authors for this work,” an examiner at the Copyright Office wrote to the magazine.
The U.S. Copyright Office rejected issuing "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" actor Alfonso Ribeiro a copyright registration for his goofy "Carlton" dance made famous in the sitcom https://t.co/UDfgP8qeUd— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) February 15, 2019
The “Carlton Dance” catapulted Ribiero into being one of TV’s most memorable characters — and the dance been made into GIFs and memes on social media for many years now. The Copyright Office’s social media team posted on its Twitter account regarding copyrighting choreography in December of 2018, in honor of National Dance Day.
“Choreography is created by copyright,” the office wrote. “Create some new moves and register with the Copyright Office. #NationalDanceDay”
According to the Hollywood Reporter, all hope is not lost for Ribiero’s lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court is continuing to review prerequisites for copyright litigation.