An interesting matter arose revolving around the famous ‘Carlton dance’, created and popularised by Alfonso Ribeiro who co-starred alongside Will Smith in the globally adored and family favourite sitcom, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ which aired in the 90’s. This dance was a personalized, creative and comical expression created by Alfonso for his character – Carlton Banks, who was the son of a rich and renowned lawyer in America – Philip Banks. Due to the perceived sense of ‘white privileges’ occurring at the time, the ‘Carlton dance’ was made to depict the bourgeoisie life the Banks family lived despite being African-American. Accordingly, the dance is extremely well-known and is always used to mimic or recall the memory of Alfonso Ribeiro’s role in the critically-acclaimed series, which enjoyed a prominent world-wide audience to date.
The impact and popularity of the dance has spiked more in recent times. For example, globally played online video games such as Fortnite and NBA 2K added the ‘Carlton dance’ within the two games. Both video games boast an impressive number of players worldwide. It is worth mentioning that as of the year 2021, Fortnite has 350 million registered players across the globe, according to Games Radar. Fortnite, in particular, provided the dance as a celebratory feature for gamers to purchase as an ‘emote’ for their in-game characters to execute the dance whenever they achieved a deed such as killing another gamer or successfully reaching a goal in the game, etc.
As a result of EPIC Games (creators of Fortnite) and Take-Two Interactive (creators of NBA 2K) gaining profits from selling the Carlton dance as an in-game addition to their consumers, Alfonso Ribeiro sued both companies in California, USA, for unfairly profiting from his ‘creative expression and likeness’. Intellectual Property, particularly ‘Copyright’, is an area of law that provides rights of protection and compensation against infringement of creative works such as: literary works, musical, artistic works, cinematograph films, sound recordings and broadcasts.
Every country, has a legislation or set of legislations and/or regulatory frameworks governing the registration, lawful exploitation and protection of intellectual property rights. The relevant laws governing intellectual property matters in Nigeria include the Copyright Act, Trademarks Act, Patents and Designs Act, among others.
A Performer’s right is protectable under copyright laws, such right vests in the performer, an exclusive right to control a stipulated list of actions with respect to his/her performance. In Nigeria for example, section 26 of the Copyright Act listed the rights of a Performer to include the right to control the performance, recording, broadcasting live, reproducing in any material form, and adaptation of the performance. The section further defined “performance” to include;
(a) a dramatic performance (which includes dance and mime);
(b) a musical performance; and
(c) a reading or recitation of literary act or any similar presentation which is or so far as it is, a live performance given by one or more individuals
The above legal provisions suggest that a performer such as Alfonso Ribeiro has the exclusive right to control the performance, recording, live broadcasting, reproductions or adaptation of his ‘Carlton Dance’. This exclusive right is vested in the performer for 50 years, commencing from the end of the year in which the performance first occurred.
The aim of the Copyright Act in vesting performers of dances with such an exclusive right for the period of 50 years may be seen to be a well calculated one. This exclusive right enables the performers to benefit from the intellectual and creative dance steps they took the time to create. Dancing is a creative skill, as well as a hobby for many that could be their source of income or fame. It also breeds a level of ingenuity that should be encouraged and protected from infringement, in order to ensure that the creators of such dance steps are properly credited and compensated.
In this present era of social media interconnectivity, a dance may originate in Kenya or Ghana and then, get circulated around the world within a short or long period of time. Several people may adopt such dances as theirs or reproduce them for profits without ever crediting the original creators of the dance steps. Copyright as a form of Intellectual Property protection evolved to create legal backing that ensures all works of creatives are rightly attributed to their origins. Some examples of such viral dances are:
|S/N||POPULAR DANCE||CREATOR (PERSON OR COMMUNITY)||YEAR||COUNTRY||POPULARISED BY|
|1.||SHAKU SHAKU||AGEGE, LAGOS||2017||NIGERIA||MR. REAL|
|2.||AZONTO||KPALONGO – JAMESTOWN||2011||GHANA||SARKODIE|
|4.||PILOLO & KUPE||INCREDIBLE ZIGI||2019||GHANA||INCREDIBLE ZIGI|
|5.||AKWAABA||MR. EAZI, PATAPAA, PAPPY AND KOJO||2018||GHANA & NIGERIA||MR. EAZI|
|11.||SHOKI||AGEGE, LAGOS||2014||NIGERIA||LIL KESH|
|12.||SOAPY||NAIRA MARLEY||2019||NIGERIA||NAIRA MARLEY|
African American and African choreographers/dancers may be said to be the main innovators of dance culture across the globe and are therefore in the best position to benefit from copyrighting their unique Afropop and dancehall moves. This is a largely untapped means of revenue creation that can generate large incomes from performance, licensing deals and litigation, among others.
Thus, while dancers such as: Poco Lee, Okie, Zlatan, Naira Marley, Soulja Boy, Jaquel Knight and Stephen (papi) Ojo, among others, keep creating new dance moves that take the internet by storm and are constantly featured in music videos; they as pioneers’ performers ought to copyright and protect these personalized dance creations. For example, the choreographer, Jaquel Knight, secured the copyright for the dance steps which he created and was performed in the globally received son – “Single Ladies”, through reputable lawyer, David Hecht.
Jaquel Knight is well-known in the American entertainment industry for creating timeless choreographies for famous music videos made by the likes of Beyonce, Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B and Rihanna, as well as creating choreography for performances at major physical and virtual live concerts (e.g., Coachella and the Superbowl). In a much-welcomed development, Mr Knight recently incorporated a company solely dedicated to Intellectual Property protection and licensing of dance moves and choreographies for creatives everywhere, becoming the first choreographer in the world to do so.
In some jurisdictions (such as Nigeria), copyright protection typically arises once an original idea is put into a physical or material form. Such creations, including dances or choreographies, are however better protected if registered with the appropriate copyright registries (Nigerian Copyright Commission in Nigeria), utilizing the services of lawyers that are well-versed and experienced in the areas of intellectual property and entertainment law. This enables the law to effectively protect and enforce the exclusivity bestowed on the creators over their creative works.
In essence, this area of creativity is a gold-mine waiting to be exploited by the knowledgeable and quick-acting performers who know the worth of their efforts. Every creator is worthy of the recognition, income and protection that arises from their original work/creation. Intellectual property law serves the sole purpose of being the legal vehicle through which such enforcement or IP rights can be achieved. Therefore, it is in the best interests of performers and choreographers to seek out and engage the services of efficient legal practitioners or law firms within their jurisdictions and take the necessary steps to protect and profit from their creations.
This article was authored by Vanessa Obi, Esq; an Associate at Alliance Law Firm.
 Sam Loveridge and Ford James, ‘How Many People Play Fortnite? It’s A Lot And The Numbers Are Going Up | Gamesradar+’ (Gamesradar.com, 2021) <https://www.gamesradar.com/uk/how-many-people-play-fortnite/> accessed 22 May 2021.
 Michael Baggs, ‘Fortnite Sued Over The Floss: Can You Copyright A Dance Move?’ BBC NEWS (2018) <https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-46619052> accessed 19 May 2021.i
 COPYRIGHT ACT, CAP C28, LFN 2004.
 CAP T13, LFN 2004
 CAP P2, LFN 2004
 Section 26 (1)
 Section 26 (2)
 Section 27, COPYRIGHT ACT, CAP C28, LFN 2004
 Jazz Tangcay, ‘Beyonce Choreographer Launches Company To Copyright Dance Moves – Variety’ (Variety, 2021) <https://variety.com/2021/artisans/news/beyonce-choreographer-jaquel-knight-copyright-dance-moves-1234957578/#!> accessed 13 June 2021.
 Tonja Stidhum, ‘Can You Copyright Dance Moves? ‘Single Ladies’, ‘Formation’ And ‘WAP’ Choreographer Jaquel Knight Made History Doing Just That’ (The Root, 2021) <https://www.theroot.com/can-you-copyright-dance-moves-single-ladies-formation-1846747805> accessed 10 June 2021.