Why is the guy who played Carlton on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' suing the makers of 'Fortnite'? The lawyer behind the lawsuit explains.

NBCWill Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro in the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ days.
  • “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” actor Alfonso Ribeiro is suing “Fortnite” maker Epic Games.
  • The lawsuit accuses Epic Games of misappropriating Ribeiro’s iconic dance from the “Fresh Prince,” often known as “The Carlton.”
  • “The right of publicity claim that we have is that these celebrities have the right to control their likeness commercially,” Ribeiro’s lawyer told Business Insider. “This is the kind of movement – a dance – that is inextricably linked to individual artists.”

“Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” actor Alfonso Ribeiro is one of three celebrities currently suing “Fortnite” maker Epic Games over dance moves.

All three claim that Epic Games took dances from them, re-created said dances in “Fortnite” as emotes, and profited from the sale of those emotes without compensating the original creators of the dance moves. In the case of Ribeiro, his dance from “Fresh Prince” is often referred to as “The Carlton” – a reference to the name of his character on the classic NBC sitcom.

Ribeiro has become associated with the dance, and even performed it in 2014 when he was on “Dancing With the Stars”:

But it’s not just about the dance, Ribeiro’s lawyer David Hecht said in a phone interview with Business Insider on Thursday.

“The right of publicity claim that we have is that these celebrities have the right to control their likeness commercially,” Hecht said. “This is the kind of movement – a dance – that is inextricably linked to individual artists.”

More specifically: Ribeiro’s legal claim isn’t just to the choreographed dance moves, but to the performance of that dance being tied to his likeness as a celebrity.

That the dance is known in “Fortnite” as the “Fresh” certainly doesn’t hurt Ribeiro’s argument.

Fortnite (Fresh emote)Epic Games

To buy the “Fresh” emote, you need 800 V-bucks. That’s $US8 of real money, but V-bucks can also be earned through playing the game.

That the emote is sold directly – making it a quantifiable, unique revenue stream – is part of why Hecht is confident that Ribeiro’s claim is sound. “These are dances that are sold with a dollar tag associated with them,” Hecht said. “That to me stands out. That is why they essentially had targets on their backs. Not only were they doing it brazenly, but they’re putting a dollar price tag on it. It was V-bucks, but to do that – to copy something frame-by-frame and then to just sell it – that’s the issue.”

In addition to Ribeiro, Hecht’s firm represents rapper 2Milly and Instagram star Russell “Backpack Kid” Horning in suits against Epic Games. And more suits may be coming. In each case, the damages being sought are unknown; Hecht said that’s a measure of limited public information on how much money “Fortnite” is making.

“We’re flying blind at this point,” he said. “We know generally from public statistics how much ‘Fortnite’ has made off of these dances, but we don’t have a specific dollar amount until we have that information.”

One demand is clear in all three cases: “The artists wanna be credited. Without that, it’s very much cultural misappropriation.”

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