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  • Writer's pictureSarah Morris Ocampo

Can You Protect a Dance Move With a Copyright Law

Complex choreography is a creative act and can be registered for copyright protection as long as it meets the other requirements, such as being fixed in some form of media by being recorded. 17 USC § 102(a)(4). However, individual dance moves or poses generally cannot by protected by copyright.

This issue recently gained some attention because Mr. Alfonso Ribeiro attempted to register the copyright for the dance moves that were sometimes referred to as “The Carlton” after the character he portrayed in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Mr. Ribeiro attempted to register the moves in connection with a dispute with the makers of Fortnite. Fortnite is a video game which allows its players to purchase a variety of poses and short dances for expression. One of the dances had some similarity to “The Carlton” dance done by Mr. Ribeiro in the show. Mr. Ribeiro alleged that the inclusion in Fortnite violated his copyright.

However, when he attempted to register the copyright,[1] the U.S. Copyright Office denied the registration. The Copyright Office responded noting that neither individual dance moves nor simple routines can be copyrighted. This was in accordance with the clear intent of Congress during earlier amendments to the copyright act when the House Report noted that “choreographic works do not include social dance steps and simple routines.”[2]

The minimum requirements to acquire copyright protection are low under the law, but there must be a minimum threshold of creativity involved. Further, copyright was not meant to lock away basic building blocks which are needed to develop other works, such as individual dance moves or short sequences.[3] A qualified attorney, such as the intellectual property attorneys at Morris Law Center, can assist if you have other questions about what can be protected by copyright.

And finally, as we always say, “If you think you might need an attorney, you probably do.” Contact us before anything is set in stone. We love answering questions!

By Timothy A. Wiseman, Esq.



[1] The application was made under Service Request Number 1-7226013290 and the relevant correspondence has ID: 1-3DJ4TP3.

[2] H.R. Rep No. 94-1476 p. 54, discussing categories of copyrightable works.

[3] Scénes á faire and commonly used tropes are other examples of building blocks that are part of the public domain and cannot be protected by copyright.

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