Actor Alfonso Ribeiro probably isn’t kicking up his heels at this news: The U.S. Copyright Office won’t allow him to copyright his famous “Carlton Dance.”
In December, the actor sued video gaming companies Epic Games, the creator of “Fortnite,” and Take-Two Interactive, which owns the “NBA 2K” series, for including the dance in their games without his permission.
To boost his case, Ribeiro sought to copyright the Carlton Dance, but his application was denied by the U.S. Copyright Office, according to The Hollywood Reporter,
The copyright office rejected the registration because Ribeiro’s “choreographic work” was just a “simple dance routine,” Saskia Florence, a supervisory registration specialist in the office’s Performing Arts Division, told Ribeiro’s attorney David Hecht, according to correspondence written last month that surfaced on Wednesday in California federal court.
Florence explained further:
“The dancer sways their hips as they step from side to side, while swinging their arms in an exaggerated manner.
“In the second dance step, the dancer takes two steps to each side while opening and closing their legs and their arms in unison.
“In the final step, the dancer’s feet are still and they lower one hand from above their head to the middle of their chest while fluttering their fingers.
“The combination of these three dance steps is a simple routine that is not registrable as a choreographic work.”
Let’s roll the tape, shall we?
Robert Brauneis, co-director of the intellectual property program at George Washington University Law School, told The New York Times the denial isn’t exactly a shocker.
“That does not surprise me in the least,” Brauneis said. “It’s like a word or a short phrase. The copyright office has always taken the position that words or phrases are not copyrightable, and this is exactly like a word or a phrase in a dance. You could repeat that word or phrase indefinitely — here I’m shaking my hips, here I’m shaking my hips, again and again — but that repetition doesn’t make the fragment subject to copyright protection.”
Hecht told the paper he plans to ask the copyright office to reconsider, saying that even if the individual movements are simple, the way Ribeiro arranged it qualifies it as a choreographic work.
“It’s the same as when you combine notes in a musical composition,” the lawyer said. “Those compilations would be entitled to copyright protection under the law.”
When Ribeiro filed his lawsuit in December, TMZ noted that the actor said in 2012 that he “stole” the movements for the dance from Courteney Cox’s moves in Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark” video, and from an Eddie Murphy routine in which he imitated white people dancing.
Ribeiro’s attorney later claimed his client used the word “stole” in jest and “not in the legal sense.”