We’ve written about how music is woven into the fabric of this year’s gaming craze Fortnite thanks to its ‘emotes’ – dance moves that players can buy using the game’s V-Bucks currency, and then use to show off while playing. It’s no secret that a number of those emotes are based on real dance moves created by artists. Now Fortnite’s developer Epic Games is facing some legal headaches as a result.
US rapper 2 Milly is suing Epic Games over Fortnite’s ‘Swipe It’ emote, claiming that what’s been swiped is his famous ‘Milly Rock’ move from 2014. “I was never compensated by Epic Games for their use of the ‘Milly Rock.’ They never even asked for my permission,” said 2 Milly, in a statement released by the law firm he’s hired to fight the case. “This isn’t the first time that Epic Games has brazenly misappropriated the likeness of African-American talent,” added lawyer David Hecht, citing a claim by another artist, Lenwood ‘Skip’ Hamilton.
This is a simmering controversy around Fortnite’s success. In July, for example, Chance the Rapper criticised Epic Games in a tweet. “Fortnite should put the actual rap songs behind the dances that make so much money as Emotes. Black creatives created and popularized these dances but never monetized them. Imagine the money people are spending on these Emotes being shared with the artists that made them,” he wrote then. The ‘Shoot’ move created by rapper BlocBoy in 2017 is another prominent example – in Fortnite, it’s been rebranded ‘Hype’.
There’s a big question mark over whether any lawsuits relating to dance emotes will succeed: “Intellectual property law states that it’s possible to copyright a series of dance movements in a choreographed piece, but not an individual move,” reported Pitchfork in its report on ‘corporate swag-jacking’ earlier this year. 2 Milly will be hoping to prove that verdict wrong.
But in any case, with Fortnite continuing to generate a ton of cash every month, there’s an argument for Epic Games to voluntarily explore ways of better crediting the originators of its emotes, and when there is music closely associated with those original dance moves, then why not also explore how that music could be licensed, included in the game, and thus share some of the revenues with those musicians too?
If nothing else, there’s an argument that if Epic Games doesn’t do it, another developer with a game hoping to knock Fortnite off its perch in the future might.