Epic Games can breathe a small sigh of relief. The copyright lawsuits against Fortnite’s dance emotes have been dropped as of this week, although it seems like that it's only a temporary reprieve. The disputes came from various celebrities and personalities, such as rapper 2 Milly and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor Alfonso Ribero, who took exception to Epic using (and selling) dances they created and claimed to own.
The saga began last November when 2 Milly sued Epic for appropriating his popular “Milly Rock” dance and profiting from it. Not long after 2 Milly’s suit, Ribero filed a lawsuit over the use of “The Carlton”, a dance made famous by his Fresh Prince character, Carlton Banks. Shortly after that, the mother of Russell Horning, aka Backpack Kid, sued for Fortnite's inclusion of Horning’s popular “Flossing” dance. Finally, the mom of Orange Shirt Kid, whose dance “The Random” became a viral YouTube hit, piled another suit against Epic on the company for featuring the dance without his consent. None of the celebrities in question actually owned copyrights to their dances, making the entire situation a messy grey area of creator ownership and artist compensation.
However, according to Gameindustry.biz, a recent change in copyright law has forced all four plaintiffs to drop their suits. The U.S. Supreme Court declared in a separate, unrelated case that plaintiffs must wait until their copyright registration has been completed before filing lawsuits of this kind–a process than can take several months. It’s worth noting that the court already rejected Ribero’s copyright for “The Carlton” back in February.
While Epic is 'safe' for the time being, they can easily find themselves back in hot water down the line. The plaintiffs can simply sue again once they’ve registered their copyright. After all, the law doesn’t necessarily specify that copyrights have to be granted, only that they’re registered. Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hect, the law firm representing all of the plaintiffs, expressed as much to Hollywood Reporter by describing the setback as “purely procedural." Odds are we haven’t heard the last of this case.
In January, Microsoft took it upon themselves to exorcise the offending dances from Forza Horizon 4 just to be on the safe side. One has to wonder if Epic would be better off doing the same, despite the game's popularity at least partially being tied to its dance routines. In the meantime, Season 8 of Fortnite is in full swing. Epic improved cross-play functionality via a recent patch and added a new vehicle to the game, continuing to pile on features ahead of a busy 2019 for the developer and recent digital distributor.
- Fortnite (Video Game) release date: Jul 21, 2017