Despite enjoying a global audience and widespread success, Fortnite is no stranger to controversy. Late last year, the popular Battle Royale game made headlines after a number of musicians and artists announced their intentions to take the game’s creator, Epic Games, to court. The suit alleged that some of the dance emotes included in the game were perfect copies of dance moves that the artists had created and popularized in their music videos, and Fortnite was using moves they had created to profit without providing any sort of compensation.
Those suits did eventually make their way into court, with plaintiffs including artists such as actor Alfonso Ribeiro from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Donald Faison from the TV show “Scrubs,” and rapper Terrence “2Milly” Ferguson. Last week, however, many of the suits were summarily dismissed… if only temporarily.
The grounds for dismissal? The artists don’t own copyrights to the moves themselves, and therefore can’t technically claim the moves as property. As such, the cases are on hold until the artists can file for the copyright, which could take many months.
Copyright law itself is unclear when it comes to physical performances, so it remains to be seen if the artists in question will meet with any success in copyrighting the moves. Current law specifies that full “dance routines” can be copyrighted, but not specific moves. There is little, however, to clarify what the difference is between a “move” and a “routine.”
Prior to this sweeping decision, Epic’s legal team fought back against several of the suits using this exact defense, citing that many of the moves in question were too basic to merit a copyright claim. In the case of Alfonso Ribeiro, the Copyright Office itself denied his motion to file, stating his move was too simple to merit a copyright.
This? Too simple?
If the artists in question receive their copyrights and the cases are allowed to proceed, Epic Games could be forced into a sticky financial situation. Aside from the artists that have filed suit, many of Fortnite’s emotes are based on already popularized dance moves, such as the iconic moves from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. Should the cases meet with success, many other artists would have precedent to come forward with claims, which might deal a substantial blow to the popular game.
To date, Epic has removed several of the emotes in question from their in-game store pending litigation. For now, at least, the next steps in this ongoing controversy remain unclear.