Epic Games is facing another lawsuit for allegedly lifting a dance move from a professional choreographer to use as a Fortnite emote.
Kyle Hanagami claims It’s Complicated – an emote added to Fortnite in 2020 – uses copyrighted dance moves that he performed in a 2017 routine to the backing of Charlie Puth’s pop song How Long.
As reported by NBC (opens in new tab), the lawsuit claims Epic "did not credit Hanagami nor seek his consent to use, display, reproduce, sell or create derivative work based on the Registered Choreography."
It alleges Epic has wrongfully profited from the choreographer's work by selling the emote as an in-game purchase, asks the emote to stop appearing in Fortnite, and seeks compensatory damages.
Hanagami’s lawyers have uploaded a video to YouTube comparing his dance moves to the Fortnite emote side by side. You can watch the video below and see for yourself how closely the emote matches the full-body routine.
Hanagami isn’t a small-time choreographer, either. He’s previously worked with megastars like Britney Spears, Justin Beiber, BlackPink, and NSYNC.
Could Epic lose?
This isn't the first time Epic has been sued for supposedly lifting the dance moves of others without appropriate credit or remuneration.
In 2018, Russell Horning, also known as The Backpack Kid, sued Epic for using the Floss dance in an emote; actor Alfonso Ribeiro sued the publisher over an emote that imitated the famous Carlton dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and rapper 2 Milly sued the company for allegedly copying his Milly Rock move.
All three cases were later dropped, with Epic arguing none of the plaintiffs held copyright over the dances. The US Supreme Court agreed (opens in new tab) that they needed to have held official copyright before suing Epic for infringement.
Hanagami’s case, however, is more complicated. The professional choreographer says he does hold copyright over the move, putting Epic on the back foot.
While that may throw more weight behind his claim, it doesn’t guarantee the courts will agree. As The Verge (opens in new tab) highlighted during 2 Milly’s suit, Epic has previously argued that “no one can own a dance step” because “individual dance steps and simple dance routines are not protected by copyright, but rather are building blocks of free expression.”
It might be hard-pressed, however, to apply that argument to Hanagami’s routine, which looks more complex than a simple dance step and closer to a full routine.
Speaking to Kotaku (opens in new tab), Hanagami’s lawyer said: “[Hanagami] felt compelled to file suit to stand up for the many choreographers whose work is similarly misappropriated.
“Copyright law protects choreography just as it does for other forms of artistic expression. Epic should respect that fact and pay to licence the artistic creations of others before selling them.”