Not that complicated⁠—lawsuit over Fortnite dance 'It's Complicated' dismissed by judge

sign of a person dancing with a big "do not do this" slash over it
(Image credit: Epic Games)

First spotted by PCGamesN, a judge for the Central District of California has dismissed a lawsuit by choreographer Kyle Hanagami against Epic. Hanagami filed the suit in April, alleging that Epic had used his choreography for the 2017 music video "How Long" by Charlie Puth without permission or attribution.

Epic faced controversy beginning in 2018 over the sourcing of its many emote dances in Fortnite. A sequence of artists including 2 Mily and Alfonso Ribeiro filed lawsuits against the company for copyright infringement, but a 2019 Supreme Court ruling determined that dance choreography has to be formally copyrighted before an artist can sue, thwarting most of the cases.

Not so for Hanagami's case: his choreography for How Long was copyrighted. Hanagami claims he was never approached for licensing by Epic, and his lawyer, David Hecht, shared a fairly convincing video demonstrating the similarities between the two dances.

Honestly, it looks pretty darn similar to me, but Judge Wilson's dismissal approaches it from a different angle. The judge argues that the standard for copyrightable choreography under the law applies to more lengthy movements than the several seconds at question in a Fortnite emote.

"The Copyright Act's legislative history specifically states that 'choreographic works do not include social dance steps and simple routines.'" the judge's ruling reads, later pointing to similar examples of an entire dance production being copyrighted, but shorter sequences within being fair game. The ruling continues later, "Whichever way the Court evaluates Plaintiff's Steps—two seconds, four beats of music, or eight body positions, repeated ten times throughout the Registered Choreography—Defendant has the better of the argument. There is no authority to suggest that Plaintiff's Steps are protectable when viewed out of the context of the whole of Plaintiff's work; indeed, the weight of authority suggests otherwise."

Based on this ruling, it seems doubtful that any choreographer could get the better of Epic in a suit over dance emotes, copyright or no. That's a pretty resounding victory for Epic in its quest to sell silly virtual dances to every last nephew and little cousin on the planet. So begins a 1,000-year imperium of Obi-Wan Kenobi doing the Griddy.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.