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Fortnite dance lawsuits are bad for copyright and bad for culture



Fortnite is one of the most popular and profitable video games in history, and its publisher Epic copies the creative works of children and independent artists without paying them for it. As a result, it's not surprising that seven people have filed suit against the company, alleging that Epic violated copyright by turning their dance moves into Fortnite emotes. These lawsuits explore interesting new legal area. If they succeed, it can be bad for the dance, for the copyright, and for the culture that seems to be trying to protect those lawsuits.

For those who do not know Fortnite emotes are short avatar animations that players can buy or earn. Like other cosmetic items in the game, they are often fun because they are familiar. You can get generic acrobatic moves or fist pumps, but also emotes based on John Travolts Saturday Night Fever dance or the "Salt Bae" meme. And in an increasing number of complaints, people who inspired emotes ̵

1; such as Alfonso Ribeiro and rapper 2 Milly – Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – claim that Epic violates their copyrights.


Beyond the Bigger Ethical Issues This is a tough legal argument. The US Copyright Office rejects "short dance routines consisting of just a few moves or steps" and "social dances" that are not intended for experienced professional artists. (While some of the suits involve dubbing with registered copyright, they seem to encompass larger sequences than a single movement, but experts do not completely disagree with this, as there is understandably not much jurisdiction for video game dances.

If a court decides against Epic So, you could say that someone can copyright a second-long motion sequence and then prevent other people from doing those moves and recording them without paying royalties, and that's a really big deal .

In this context, viral dance trends such as swabbing could become a legal swamp – as well as challenges that relate to certain songs – most complaints would probably not come from individual artists, but from conglomerates like Viacom, Sony or Disney, the big amounts of popk own cultural landscape. Since it is not too difficult to find a single dance step, a shadowy trolling industry could even make a copyright for a variety of physical moves and then arm them during the Super Bowl halftime shows or any other major public dance performance. [19659007] If dance movements are defended as rigorously as songs, Internet companies may need to monitor unauthorized dances, as they may be held liable for copyright infringement by users. In its most extreme iteration, this would mean that YouTube adds something like a motion analysis feature to its Content ID system. It uses machine learning to search uploads for illegal moonwalking. Viral stars would hire enforcement services such as CollabDRM to register copyrights for certain gestures or dances so that they could charge royalties to anyone who had copied their features. White noise or bird song as a breach, viral videos are taken offline for use with audio clips without permission and fraudsters who use copyright strikes to blackmail YouTubers. It can be hard enough to determine when republishing a copyrighted image is legal – not to mention imitating someone else's physical movement for a few seconds, either by taking a picture of your physical body or as an animation for a virtual avatar. [19659009] And even more than memes or folk songs, dance moves often develop with the help of a whole subculture. The recent Fortnite charge, for example, deals with the dance "Running Man", described as the only creation of two former basketball players at the University of Maryland. But other people have retraced their steps back into the New Jersey club scene. It is unlikely that an official "owner" would have sued the players for copyright infringement. However, having some people in legal control of the community's efforts makes this kind of collaboration more difficult. In the long run, copyright may even hinder efforts to preserve culture because it makes copying media fairly legal.

A company that sells an artist's signature dance is not ethically synonymous with a creator who imitates John Travolta. The Intellectual Property Code was used to protect small creators – helping people behind two famous Internet cats get compensation after Warner Bros. used their creations in one game, for example. Beyond the money, Epic's actions raise serious and meaningful questions when it's right to address elements of a culture. Critics argued, Fortnite separated dances immoral from their original context and erased the work of artists (especially black artists who have filed the majority of these lawsuits), even if they are legally defensible. [19659011] None of this, however, justifies the extension of our existing copyright protection – which can easily be misused, last for more than a century and sometimes even makes no sense for the digital media – to cover something as basic as a dance step. After all, the history of copyright suggests that these guidelines are unlikely to be used to help the communities whose work Epic exploits. They simply help other companies to turn even more common culture into private property.


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