Dance choreographer Kyle Hanagami has sued Epic Games over the Fortnite emote ‘It’s Complicated’, which he claims infringes on his copyright for a dance created in 2017. Will this time be any different to the last time they got sued?
Hanagami and his lawyers assert that Epic is infringing on a registered choreographed dance from November 2017. Hanagami created a dance for the song ‘How Long’ by Charlie Puth, with a key segment from this clearly duplicated in the Fortnite emote ‘It’s Complicated’, which was released in 2020 during Fortnite Chapter 2 Season 3. Hanagami’s lawyers are seeking a court order to prevent the emote from being used in game, in addition to legal fees and unspecified damages.
You can see the comparison here, and it’s…. well, it’s identical:
The problem that Hangami will face in court is that the emote the carries on and diverges from what he created.
You can see what follows in Hangami’s dance here:
And you can see the full Fortnite emote here:
Epic Games was sued by several people in 2018, when Fortnite’s popularity was still booming and it was becoming clear just how lucrative its microtransactions and premium dance emotes were for the company. In particular, Alfonso Ribeiro, the actor who’s most famous for his role as Carlton in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and rapper 2Milly both sued Epic Games for copying the ‘Carlton Dance’ and ‘Milly Rock’ dances respectively.
Neither was successful in their suit, with the Supreme Court throwing them out as it would have been necessary for the entirety of either dance to have been included for it to infringe on copyright. Not only that, but neither had filed to copyright their dances and overarching choreography.
Hanagami is a step ahead of them both in that regard, and this will now be a real test of copyright, free use and derivative works within dance. That Epic Games has ripped off someone else’s dance is pretty obvious here, but is it to the extent that would get a lawyer to hand out a verdict in Hanagami’s favour?
If this were music, then it’s this could feasibly fall in his favour, as we’ve seen countless instances where, for example, Taylor Swift credited Right Said Fred on a song because she “interpolated” the melody from ‘I’m Too Sexy’. We’ve also got Ed Sheeran in the UK Courts as Sami Switch alleges that the song ‘Shape Of You’ infringes “particular lines and phrases” of their 2015 composition ‘Oh Why’.
We’ll have to see how far this goes through the US courts this time around.