It was with shock and slight amusement that I read that an actor was suing a games creator for allegedly stealing his famous dance moves and using them in one of its wildly popular games.
The ‘Carlton’ dance was one that had me and my sisters in howls of laughter when the aforementioned actor often performed it on the equally hilarious TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, starring the inimitable Will Smith. Now, years, nay decades later, after seeing ‘his’ dance performed by characters on Fortnite, Alfonso Ribiero decided to sue the company.
I’m not sure how he will fare in suing Epic Games, the gaming giant that has made billions of pounds with the platform game since it was released in 2017. But since Ribiero’s move was publicised, others have also come forward to claim that the game makers have ‘stolen’ their moves — the omnipresent Floss creator among them. Apparently the characters in Fortnite the game have special dances that they perform when they achieve something, and players can purchase other dances. I have played the game (poorly) and unfortunately didn’t get as far as seeing a dance move.
If you’ve no idea what words such as ‘Floss’ and ‘Fortnite’ are, then you clearly have been living in a glorious bubble undimmed by the tiresome trivialities that permeate the rest of the world. Concerned parents across the globe can testify to the game’s attraction as children obsess over the characters, the various skins they can purchase and the online glory they can earn.
But is it possible to sue over a dance? I suppose if someone is making money from something you produced then it’s within the realm of possibility. But the burden of proof would have to lie with the person making the claim. That is the tricky part. And then you have to make sure there’s no evidence that the dance was ‘stolen’ from someone else and that it is in fact ‘your dance’.
When it becomes a social dance
Surely many dances involve ‘borrowing’ other moves from other performers? I read somewhere that if a dance has become so seeped into the collective conscience it can become a ‘social’ dance and as such cannot be claimed by an individual as ‘their’ dance, and therefore they cannot sue those who use it. Think of the Conga, or the wedding favourite in my hometown of Derry, the cringeworthy ‘Rock the Boat’. For those blissfully ignorant of aid dance, it involves adults, no doubt lubricated with their favourite tipple, sitting on the ground in the middle of the dance floor in a long line, legs akimbo with the other person in front of them. It’s truly frightening.
I wonder if Fortnite’s solicitors can claim this ‘social dance’ as a defence for their use of the ‘Carlton’ and other such dances that their characters perform. But if a dance is a complete piece then there is a basis for ownership and protection of copyright, you’d think. However, if it’s simply a small move then surely it’s not eligible for litigation.
Others may think that some of these ‘dance’ creators should be the ones being sued for subjecting us to millions of children throwing their arms around at speeds unknown and thumping everything and everyone in their path. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out and whether the powers that be declare the Fortnite games within their rights or ban them from using the dance lest they pay for the privilege.
In the meantime we will have to endure more children dancing the Floss and attempting the Carlton — which I’m sure, when they’re adults, will join Rock the Boat and many others as dances and music that belong firmly in the boundaries of the wedding party.
Christina Curran is freelance journalist based in Northern Ireland.