Fighting Fortnite

Getting victories might be fun for you, but hip hop and rap artists are feeling like they’ve lost.

From K-Pop to “Seinfeld,” many pop culture references have all been victims of the game played by millions, Fortnite. The popular battle royale game is a favorite among teens and college students but there’s more than meets the eye. The game, while free, gives players the chance to buy certain customizable options-one of which is the dances.

These dances, or Emotes as they’re called in the game, are pulled directly from TV shows, viral videos or rappers. However, there is no credit or attribution in sight.

“It’s messed up because if I made it [a dance] somewhere, I’d want to be credited for it,” freshman Trevor Swartz said. “The fact that they sell it to people and don’t credit anybody, and the people that came up with the dance get no credit for it [is wrong].”

“It’s messed up because if I made it [a dance] somewhere, I’d want to be credited for it,”

–Trevor Swartz, ’21

Creators have come forward with their feelings toward the game and some have even begun to seek legal action. One of the most notable complaints is a series of tweets from Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, more popularly known by his stage name, Chance the Rapper.

“Fortnite should put the actual rap songs behind the dances that make so much money as Emotes,” Bennett wrote in his tweet. “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.”

Unfortunately, the truth is that many players don’t stop to think about what’s more than meets the eye.

“I’ll probably still buy it anyways,” Swartz said. “Even if it is credited or not.”

In addition to a credit added to the dances in the game, there is also dispute over whether the original artist should be compensated.

“Some of the profits should go to them, maybe like 25%,” Swartz said. “But not all of it because Fortnite still has to make some money.”

While most people believe this is more of a case having to do with morals and ethics, artists are seeking legal action against Fortnite and their parent company, Epic Games.

“This is our craft that you guys basically stole,” rapper and creator of the Milly Rock, 2 Milly told Insider in an interview. “You stole it for money so pay us our money.”

But is it possible to copyright a dance or dance move? Legally, the answer is yes, but only under certain parameters.

“Copyright law does not protect any dance or any dance step or move in particular,” expert attorney for Kirkland and Ellis LLP, Ms. Shanti Sadtler Conway, told “Insider.” “Rather, it protects what is called choreographic work. So you do need to have more than one or two steps together.”

While copyright law doesn’t protect what is called “social” or individual dance moves, the question becomes if it’s a matter of cultural representation and appropriation, especially since many of these dances were created by rap

and hip hop artists. For example, many young kids playing the game may only know it as a Fortnite dance and have no idea about the original creator.

“Little kids don’t have the knowledge that us teens do when we play,” Swartz said. “Like [thinking], ‘Hey, I saw that on Instagram,’ or ‘Hey, I saw that on Snapchat.’ They just think, ‘Oh, Fortnite dance, Fortnite dance,’ but like, the Backpack Kid came up with the Floss, they don’t who the Backpack Kid is.”

This is also influenced by the fact the names of the dances are changed, further angering creators. For example, 2 Milly’s dance the Milly Rock shows up in the game as the Swipe It.

Graphic created by: Emma Skidmore

“The thing is, if Fortnite is going to use this dance, anyone who cares enough to know what the dance is will know where it’s from,” senior Tristan Moyer said. “It’s free recognition for them [the artist], so I feel like them complaining about it brings a lot of attention to their name regardless.”

Clearly, there is a divide between who popularized a dance and who created it, but should Fortnite be making an effort to bridge that gap?

“Cam Newton didn’t really start the dab, like Migos dabbed in like 2011 in their music videos when no one knew them,” Moyer said. “Dabbing was around but Cam Newton was the one who made it big, so he did the same thing Fortnite is doing.”

While some may care about being credited more than others, there’s no doubt that when it comes to money, it sparks conversation. Fortnite is projected to make $12.6 billion in revenue this year as reported by Techspot, made almost exclusively off of optional, in-game purchases. For them to make this money off of unoriginal content seems wrong.

“I 100 percent think they should be credited but compensated, I feel like that’s kind of muddy,” Moyer said. “I mean, they should, but I really can’t imagine them getting credited. Yes they should-will they? Probably not.”

Despite the opinions voiced by artists about the use of their dances, Fortnite doesn’t seem to have plans to change the credit they lack.

“It’s just a very gray area; there’s no black and white to it,” he said.

While the majority of people know the dances are pulled straight from pop culture and viral videos, it’s still unclear as to where the line is crossed between a specific dance or gesture and something that’s just common knowledge.

“I feel like they change the names so that they don’t get copyrighted,” sophomore Quintin Gatons said. “They use all these popular dances and just change the names around.”

However, while possibly one of the most notable, Fortnite isn’t the only culprit of this. The Milly Rock can be seen in NBA 2K18 and they also did not contact the creator before using the dance. Beyoncé has even been accused of dance plagiarism in her “Countdown” video, mirroring the choreography a little too closely to that of Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.

“I’ve seen them [the dances] in movies and other things like that,” Gatons said. “It’s not original, obviously.”

While players may already know where dances are from, some feel that Fortnite has a responsibility to give credit where credit is due.

“I feel like, in some way, recognize [the artist] and show them [kids] where it’s originally from,” he said.

However, the odds are stacked against those looking to sue Fortnite, as legally they don’t have the upper hand.

“I don’t feel like it’s going to be the end of the world if they don’t [seek legal action],” Gatons said.

The game could also pioneer their own original dances, but players may not be as responsive to something they don’t recognize.

“They’ve come up with some of their own [dances], but I feel like they should try to do all of them instead of using other people’s,” he said.

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