By Chloe Aiello
Actor Alfonso Ribeiro's case against Epic Games for its use of "the Carlton" dance in "Fortnite" might come down to a jury's sympathy, rather than copyright technicalities, intellectual property lawyer Gaston Kroub told Cheddar on Tuesday.
"I think it's a mistake to only focus on the copyright issues, because you do have this idea where you have this right of publicity under California state law ... Could a sympathetic jury decide that these [artists] deserve something from 'Fortnite'? That's something that remains to be seen," said Kroub, a partner at Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov.
Ribeiro, who rose to fame playing Carlton on "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," is suing Epic and Take-Two Interactive, the maker of "NBA 2K." Both use "the Carlton" step that Ribeiro made famous on the show as an "emote," a celebratory dance that can be purchased by players in-game.
Ribeiro is just the latest celebrity or influencer to file a suit. Rapper 2 Milly and Instagrammer Russell “Backpack Kid” Horning have also filed complaints for misappropriation of their respective dances, the "Milly Rock" and "the Floss," Variety reported. The complaints allege copyright infringement and claim the game creators are violating the right of publicity of the celebrities associated with the dances.
"What Alfonso Ribeiro and 2 Milly and the Backpack Kid now have claimed is it looks like they're endorsing 'Fortnite''s use of their dance moves and they haven't provided that permission," Kroub said.
The outcome of these cases is difficult to predict.
"You can't copyright a single dance move but you can copyright under the copyright act choreography," he said, adding that copyrights on the moves are still pending.
"Really at the heart of this, though, is the fact that Epic is making a lot of money and these dances are generating revenue."
He added that one potential defense for Epic or Take-Two is to claim they were parodying, not performing, the dances. That said, the case will also depend on the items uncovered during discovery ー whether or not the game makers contacted any artists or just assumed the dances were public domain.
Most interestingly, Kroub said the complaints venture into "uncharted territory."
"No one knew a year ago 'the Carlton' would be generating untold numbers of revenue for a company, like Epic. And what we are seeing is video games are a big business and celebrities want to be associated," he said.