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Fortnite Videogame Faces Claims over Unauthorized Use of Popular “Carlton Dance”

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel

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On December 17, 2018, actor Alfonso Ribeiro, well known for his role as Will Smith’s loveable preppy cousin, Carlton Banks, on the hit 1990s television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, filed two separate lawsuits in California federal court against videogame makers Epic Games and Take-Two Interactive alleging that the companies illegally used Ribeiro’s signature dance move “The Carlton.”

In the complaint against Epic Games, Plaintiff alleges that the company unfairly profited from exploiting the actor’s protected creative expression, likeness and celebrity through the use of The Carlton Dance in its popular videogame, “Fortnite Battle Royale.” Similarly, in his’s complaint against Take-Two Interactive, the actor alleges that the company unfairly profited from exploiting his protected creative expression, likeness and trademark in its NBA 2K16 videogame. In it, players can unlock and purchase The Carlton Dance as a customizing feature for their MyPlayer Avatars. Plaintiff argues that the defendant videogame-maker failed to credit or seek consent to use, display, reproduce, sell or create a derivative work based on his likeness or his unique well-known dance.

To bolster his argument in both suits, Plaintiff argues that The Carlton Dance—which was made a cultural phenomenon during his run as Carlton Banks—distinctly features a hip-swinging motion and flailing arms and has maintained its popularity in pop culture since its inception in 1991. Plaintiff argues that The Carlton Dance is inextricably linked to him and continues to be part of his celebrity persona, pointingout that as recently as 2016, he performed the dance for charity with such superstars as Justin Timberlake and NBA player Steph Curry.

The suits similarly bring causes of action for direct infringement of copyright, contributory infringement of copyright, violation of the right of publicity under California common law and violation of California’s unfair competition law. Plaintiff also seeks an order restraining the defendants from using, selling or displaying his signature dance moves in addition to monetary damages.

The cases are: Alfonso Ribeiro v. Epic Games Inc. et al., Case No.: 2:18-cv-10412, Alfonso Ribeiro v. Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. et al., Case No.: 2:18-cv-10417

 


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