Two generations of popular Black dances were monetized by the video game powerhouse, Fortnite.
“Milly Rock” creator and rapper 2 Milly sparked a landslide of lawsuits against Fortnite’s parent company, Epic Games, for ripping off signature pop culture dances. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor Alfonso Ribeiro, known for his iconic Carlton Dance, has followed suit.
Ribeiro’s not only suing Fortnite but also Take-Two Interactive, the creator of the NBA 2k series. Take-Two inserted a version of the Carlton Dance in 2k18 as a player celebration.
In a court document acquired by HuffPost, Ribeiro and his attorney claim the companies “have unfairly profited from exploiting Ribeiro’s protected creative expression and likeness.” They claim that the “Fresh” dance is “inextricably linked to Ribeiro and has continued to be a part of his celebrity persona.”
Ribeiro’s attorney David Hecht also wrote:
“It is widely recognized that Mr. Ribeiro’s likeness and intellectual property have been misappropriated by Epic Games in the most popular video game currently in the world, Fortnite. 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. Therefore, Mr. Ribeiro is seeking his fair and reasonable share of profits Epic has earned by use of his iconic intellectual property in Fortnite and as a result, is requesting through the courts that Epic cease all use of Mr. Ribeiro’s signature dance.”
And just like 2 Milly and Alfonso Ribeiro, Backpack Kid joined the lawsuit train against Epic Games. Both Alfonso and Backpack Kid claim they are in the process of copyrighting the dance moves while proceeding forward.
In hindsight, Epic Games should’ve paid these celebrities or involved them monetarily during the creative process. They all deserve the bag, but pilfering from Black genius and taking credit for it is about as American as you can get.
The frequency of these moments of digital appropriation are alarming and proves that game creators need to reflect or respect the culture they are mining from.
If no resistance is met, major contributions are glossed over, and we’re collectively left with a watered down, whitewashed version of its origins. Fortnite refusing to compensate and to not pay homage to these young creatives is easy to dismiss. It may be a generational disconnect.
But the Carlton Dance? Big mistake. The Fresh Prince ended in 96′ and Ribeiro still can’t walk anywhere without fans running up to him singing Tom Jones. It’s synonymous with the sitcom. And Fortnite is literally making money hand over fist. Cash the check now and please don’t make Carlton dance for his digital coins.