Since debuting in 2017, the online action/strategy game Fortnite has become extremely successful and expanded beyond the gaming world to dominate pop culture. Developed by Epic Games, Fortnite is a free-to-play team based multi-platform game that blends the freedom of open world maps, an ambitious building system and a battle royale theme to make an addictive game to master and play with others. While users can play the game for free, players looking to upgrade their characters look or give them a signature move when they win a round can purchase v-bucks. Mobile analytics company Sensor Tower reported the iOS version of Fortnite raked in $1.23 million per day in the month of November in 2018 adding to the game’s overall revenue of $385 million.
Epic Games has an undeniable money maker and with the creator of Fortnite and CEO of Epic, Tim Sweeney generating $7.2 billion this year, the Fortnite team is going into 2019 on top. Success aside, Sweeney and his team have been dealing with multiple accusations of stealing dance moves. The dance moves or “Emotes” that can be bought within the game are updated daily and with prices ranging from $5-10 to do the Milly Rock, emotes definitely helped Sweeney collect his billions this year.
Rapper 2 Milly was the first artist to call out the gaming giant for putting his signature dance into Fortnite under a different name (“Swipe It”). The irony of utilizing an artist’s work without asking for permission, giving credit or compensating 2 Milly and renaming the move “Swipe It” is priceless and when it comes to using copyrighted material without permission, usually the culprit has to pay. If someone is trying to make money off of a song, movie or book that contains a piece of copyrighted work they either have to gain the rights of said work or prepare to be sued for infringing on that material. Laws have been created to protect artists, creatives and entrepreneurs but this case against stealing dance moves is unique.
Since 2 Milly’s claims, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Alfonso Ribeiro brought a lawsuit to Epic Games for turning his famously known Carlton dance into the Fresh emote. Fans have been laughing and imitating the Carlton move since the 90s when Fresh Prince was on air and if Ribeiro can make the case that the dance move made famous by him, should be credited to him then he could earn a lot of back revenue from the success of the emote. The Backpack Kid responsible for the Floss dance is the latest lawsuit against Epic and with the developers continuing to turn dance fads into pure profit, the law definitely needs to come into play to determine if they can continue exploiting artists’ work.
Copyright law is very interesting when it comes to dancing. Individual dance moves like the worm or the robot can’t be copyrighted but choreography has the potential to be copywritten if it fits certain “elements of choreography,”. All three lawsuits represented by the same law firm (Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP) are also seeking registration of their copyright to make for a stronger case against Fortnite. With these cases being the first of their kind to be heard in court, the outcome will set a precedent for future artists that create a successful dance move and want to own it beyond name recognition.
Exploiting artists that don’t have the resources to fight against people copying and pasting their work continues to be an issue that hinders the creative process. Being inspired by a person’s art is great and how more art is conceived but when the original artist isn’t acknowledged for their originality, a level of erasure happens and culture gets lost along the way. 2 Milly, Ribeiro and Backpack Kid are fighting for the millions being made for their work but they’re also fighting for the person behind their work to be recognized and awarded because there’s no “Fresh Emote” without “The Carlton”. As artists continue to push the boundaries of their creativity they need to protect themselves from the culture vultures looking to profit with no remorse.
Article By: Marcel “The Messenger” Jeremiah