It’s beginning to look a lot like a very litigious Christmas for Epic Games. Earlier this month, rapper 2 Milly sued the creators of hit game Fortnite over an “emote” (a dance move players can purchase to personalize their avatars) that he alleged was a direct steal of his signature move, the Milly Rock. Now actor Alfonso Ribeiro has filed a separate copyright infringement lawsuit, claiming the emote known as the “Fresh” copies a dance move he made famous as a character on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
According to the New York Daily News, Ribeiro states in the suit that he created the dance commonly known as “the Carlton” (named after his character on the show). “Twenty-seven years later, the dance remains distinctive, immediately recognizable, and inextricably linked to Ribeiro’s identity, celebrity, and likeness,” the lawsuit says.
The suit goes on to say that Epic never contacted Ribeiro for permission to use his moves. “Ribeiro thus brings this lawsuit to prevent Fortnite from further using his likeness and The Dance, and to recover the revenue rightfully owed to him,” it asserts.
David Hecht of Pierce Bainbridge, who is also representing 2 Milly in his case, told TMZ, ”Epic has earned record profits off of downloadable content in the game, including emotes like ‘Fresh.’ Yet Epic has failed to compensate or even ask permission from Mr. Ribeiro for the use of his likeness and iconic intellectual property.”
This may not be the last legal action Epic sees on the subject of its remotes. In a March 2018 tweet, Donald Faison noted similarities between a Fortnite emote and dance moves he performed as his character on Scrubs.
Dear fortnite… I’m flattered? Though part of me thinks I should talk to a lawyer…
— Donald Faison (@donald_faison) April 1, 2018
Legal observers have said these suits face an uphill battle because, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, “[i]ndividual movements or dance steps by themselves are not copyrightable.” But Dance Magazine reported an instance where a choreographer got some satisfaction from the makers of Fortnite. Gabby J. David uploaded a YouTube video of herself dancing, entitled “Bad & Boujee” – Choreography | Gabby J David.” She later saw similarities between her choreography and the Fortnite emote known the “Electro Shuffle.” She contacted Epic, and as of January 2018 the company was settling with her. The difference, noted writer Madeline Schrock, was that Fortnite took 10 seconds of David’s choreography, “and choreography has a different set of copyright protections.”