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Celebrity Slam - Dance Dance Restitution

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One of the things about operating in this space every week is that it keeps us more in tune with the current pop culture landscape than we might otherwise be. The truth is that pop culture – especially online pop culture – moves at an exponentially higher speed than it did when we were young zeitgeist consumers.

But here’s the thing – we’re still old.

Our status as elderstatespeople means that we simply aren’t able to consume at the rate that we once did. So much is happening so quickly that we can’t keep up. And thus, there are significant gaps in our understanding, despite our best efforts.

This brings us to this week’s subject: Fortnite.

Now, we know what Fortnite is on a basic level. If you don’t, here’s what we’ve come to understand: it’s an online video game where individuals compete in battles royale in hopes of being the last one standing. Also, it is WILDLY popular among young people. We, being old, have never played.

However, some recent court filings have brought Fortnite into our sphere. See, there’s a lot of dancing in Fortnite, for reasons we won’t even attempt to understand; these dances are available as downloadable content. But a handful of celebrities view those dances as their own and so have filed suit against Epic Games.

The first suit was filed by rapper 2 Milly, who claims that Fortnite stole his “Milly Rock” dance, repackaging it as the “Swipe It” dance and selling it to players. He is suing for damages and legal fees … and demands that the dance be removed from the game.

The next – and by far most egregious, in our opinion – was filed by Alfonso Ribeiro. That’s right, Carlton Banks himself filed suit because he claims that Epic stole the brilliance that is the Carlton dance. In January of this year, Fortnite released the “Fresh emote” – which, come on, they aren’t even pretending anymore – which was a carbon copy of Ribeiro’s phenomenal routine.

Last (and probably least?) is the teenaged internet phenomenon named Backpack Kid, who is famous for inventing the dance known as the Floss back in 2016. The kid’s mom filed suit on his behalf, claiming that Fortnite added the dance to the game, calling it “The Floss,” basically conceding that yes, they’re co-opting it and what’re you going to do about it?

(The answer: sue.)

All three – 2 Milly, Ribeiro and Backpack Kid – are reportedly in the process of copyrighting their respective dances, but nothing has been finalized.

First things first: we are OLD. Obviously, we knew that we were old, but stories like this are what really make us feel the years piling up. Who would have thought that the chill of death’s creeping specter would be evoked by a video game where children pay real money to make characters dance in specific ways invented by other people who are now claiming said dances as intellectual property?

Anyway – we’re not lawyers, so we have zero idea whether or not any of these folks have a leg to stand on, legally speaking. But we can say that it’s a jerk move by Epic; the company is absolutely profiting from the work of others. Of course, they may well be legally allowed to do so, but still – poor form.

We’ll admit to being unfamiliar with 2 Milly’s oeuvre and having our only exposure to Backpack Kid be that time he was on “SNL” during Katy Perry’s set. Those two are entitled to file this suit and whatever.

But we’re really feeling for Alfonso Ribeiro. The Carlton dance was an iconic pop cultural touchstone back when that was a relatively rare thing. EVERYBODY loved the Carlton. And while Ribeiro has gone on to a fine career in hosting things on TV, even he has to know that that dance is his apex of relevance. Having it appropriated for profit by a video game company and not seeing a dime must really sting. Those other two cats elicit a shoulder shrug, but Alfonso Ribeiro deserves our unwavering support in this difficult time.

The moral to the story: if you make up a dance, copyright it, because apparently there’s a path to profitability now. Just one more aspect of pop culture confusing the olds like us.

Last modified on Wednesday, 19 December 2018 13:41

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