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It’s a famous and memorable dance move, but it’s not copyrightable

It’s “iconic,” states recent major network coverage focused upon it. And it is concededly famous, underscores the headline of that media focus.

But it doesn’t merit copyright protection, a determination that likely has the creator of the notable “Carlton” dance move in a bit of a funk. Alfonso Ribeiro could be doing any number of things right now in the wake of a recent judgment rendered by the U.S. Copyright Office, but celebratory dancing is unquestionably not one of them.

Here’s why: The Copyright Office ruled last week that the Carlton, while notable, does not contain independent expression that is sufficiently original to warrant protection as safeguarded artistic material. Federal officials stress that the protection granted to select works of choreography cannot be extended to Ribeiro’s oft-copied dance move because it is, well, not choreography.

In their view, it falls short, being a “simple dance routine.”

That is obviously disappointing to Ribeiro, an actor, television host and award-winning dancer.

Yet the ruling is unsurprising, coming from a perspective that favors a high originality bar and the commonplace view that too liberally granting protection can dangerously threaten free expression and new artistic creation.

Ribeiro filed lawsuits against two video game companies, alleging infringement of the Carlton. Reportedly, game creators have earned “hundreds of millions of dollars” from exploiting the dance move, without Ribeiro ever seeing a dime of that money.

A hearing on the Copyright Office’s motion to dismiss Ribeiro’s claims is slated for March 18.

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