Professional dance choreographer, Kyle Hanagami is suing Epic Games for allegedly using his 2017 copyrighted dance routine in the Fortnite emote, “It’s Complicated” which the company launched back in August 2020, first reported by NBC.
The lawsuit was filed last week and states that the Fortnite owner “did not credit Hanagami nor seek his consent to use, display, reproduce, sell or create derivative work based on the Registered Choreography.” This isn’t the first time Epic Games has dealt with lawsuits pertaining to the company profiting off reproduced dance routines through paid dance emotes in its highly popular battle royale game.
Some notable lawsuits in these cases in 2018 include Russell Horning, The Backpack Kid sued for the use of the Floss dance, actor Alfonso Ribeiro sued for the use of his infamous Carlton dance featured in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and rapper 2 Milly for his Milly Rock move. These cases didn’t go anywhere and were later dropped, but did lead to the company crediting creators and directly paying them for use of their viral dances last year. Even with this, the company is still being called out for taking dance moves without permission.
Epic Games argued that none of the plaintiffs in these 2018 lawsuits didn’t actually own the copyright of their dance move with the US Supreme Court siding with the company in this instance. It’s a little different this time around as Hanagami actually owns the copyright for his dance number, so he may actually have a case, unlike past lawsuits. Building off that, Hanagami has pedigree as he worked with some of the biggest pop stars including Britney Spears, NSYNC, BlackPink and more.
However as The Verge highlighted in the 2 Milly case, Epic Games will likely bring back its previous argument that “no one can own a dance step” as “individual dance steps and simple dance routines are not protected by copyright, but rather are building blocks of free expression.”
To further the narrative of Epic Games’ copy and paste of the dance routine in Fortnite, Hanagami’s lawyer, David Hecht posted a YouTube video that’s a side by side comparison of his client’s dance routine featured in Charlie Puth’s 2017 song, “How Long” and the Fortnite “It’s Complicated” emote which looking at the video seems identical.
“[Hanagami] felt compelled to file the suit to stand up for the many choreographers whose work is similarly appropriated. Copyright law protects choreography just as it does for other forms of artistic expression. Epic should respect that fact and pay to license the artistic creations of others before selling them,” Hecht said in an interview with Kotaku.
While Epic Games struggles to support the individuals it steals from, the company has shown it’s willing to help the people of Ukraine which raised $144 million across two weeks at the beginning Fortnite Chapter 3 Season 2. The season is still ongoing with new unlocks in the seemingly final pages of the battle pass for characters like the Prowler and Doctor Strange. Fortnite Chapter 3 player, LootStation highlighted that they hit level 470 without any glitches which was achieved in a matter of weeks.