As we previously wrote on this blog, Alfonso Ribiero, better known as Carlton Banks from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air filed suit against multiple videogame publishers, including the publisher of NBA 2K and Fortnite for featuring avatars that perform his signature “Carlton Dance.” Ribiero’s case, however, may have just encountered a dispositive roadblock.
Last week, a letter from Saskia Florence, a supervisory registration specialist with the US Copyright Office, to Mr. Ribiero’s attorney, was uncovered. There, Ms. Florence refers to the Carlton Dance as a “simple dance routine” that is “not registrable as a choreographic work.” Describing the choreography, Ms. Florence stated:
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.
Accordingly, Ms. Florence concluded, “The combination of these three dance steps is a simple routine that is not registrable as a choreographic work.”
Based upon this refusal, the defendants have filed motions to dismiss the complaint. Specifically, the defendants argue that the mark is not entitled to copyright protection, as Ms. Florence, whose conclusion on behalf of the Copyright Office is entitled to substantial deference, likewise concluded. Defendants also contend that Mr. Ribiero may not be the true owner of the work, as it was created for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and again used on Dancing with the Stars, both of which raise questions regarding whether the network owns the copyright as a work made for hire. Accordingly, Defendants requested that the matter be dismissed with prejudice.
We’ll keep an eye on the docket and when Mr. Riberio files his opposition to the motion to dismiss, we’ll provide another update.