In the long tradition of youthful cultural crazes, Fortnite is the latest entry in a pantheon of things that, like sounds at a particularly high frequency, are lost on those over a certain age. For those as yet unaware, Fortnite is an online mulitplayer battle-royale game that is currently consuming the free hours of young people he world over. In addition to being all-consuming for kids, it's highly profitable for its creator, Epic Games, who reportedly brought in $3 billion in profit last year.
That visibility and profitability also creates problems in instances where the developers may have borrowed or stolen elements for the game, depending on the point of view. The alleged theft in this case isn't something as fundamental as code or trade secrets; the issue at hand that has the company in court is dance moves.
Actor Alfonso Ribiero is suing Epic Games for lifting his iconic (if you grew up in the '90s) "Carlton" dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to use as an in-game "emote" in Fortnite. In the suit, Ribiero is asking for damages and for Epic Games to stop profiting from the dance. (It is useful to note, for the uninitiated, that while Fortnite is available to play for free, the game generates its mountains of profit from microtransactions that allow players to purchase in-game items, including emotes.)
Fortnite is not the only alleged offender in misusing the iconic dance. Ribiero is also suing 2K Games, the makers of the NBA 2K series, for unauthorized use of the Carlton in its NBA 2K16 game. And the creators of the game Forza Horizon 4 recently released an update to remove the dance from its game, likely to forestall any potential legal action.
On its face, the actor would seem to have an exceedingly strong case; this side-by-side comparison is hard to argue with. And Ribiero's case isn't the only instance of alleged misappropriation on the part of Epic Games. Kotaku notes the many instances of using artists' dance moves as character animations without attribution or compensation. But as this NBC News story notes, the "Carlton" dance was originally create and performed during his time as an actor on The Fresh Prince, and as such might belong to the show's producers. The article also cites Ribiero's past admission that the "Carlton" was inspired by other dances itself, further muddying the waters.
Whatever the outcome of this particular case, Epic Games might be served by operating with a bit more caution in how it sources its in-game dances. While they're not short on profits, there also doesn't seem to be any shortage of creators looking for their just due.