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Choreographer sues Epic Games for using his copyrighted moves in a Fortnite emote

Kyle Hanagami, a choreographer who's worked with BlackPink and Britney Spears, accused Epic Games of ripping off his copyrighted routine for the in-game "It's Complicated" emote.

A professional choreographer who is suing Epic Games alleging copyright infringement claims the company lifted his dance moves for a Fortnite emote.

Kyle Hanagami, a choreographer who has worked with Britney Spears, NSYNC, BlackPink and other pop superstars, alleges that moves in the "It's Complicated" emote used movements from a copyrighted routine. Emotes are dance moves or other actions the game's players can purchase for their characters to perform. 

Hanagami posted his choreography to Charlie Puth's song "How Long" in 2017. Fortnite launched the "It's Complicated" emote in August 2020.

The lawsuit, which was filed last week, says Epic Games, which owns Fortnite, "did not credit Hanagami nor seek his consent to use, display, reproduce, sell or create derivative work based on the Registered Choreography."

Epic Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hanagami's lawyer, David Hecht, posted a YouTube video with a side-by-side comparison of Hanagami's original video and the "It's Complicated" dance moves, showing the nearly identical choreography.

"Their infringement could not be more blatant," Hecht said.

Epic Games has faced similar lawsuits in the past. Multiple artists, including Instagrammer Backpack Kid, Alfonso Ribeiro and rapper 2Milly, sued the company in 2018. The lawsuits were eventually dismissed in light of a 2019 Supreme Court decision, which ruled that copyright infringement lawsuits must wait until the copyright is registered before moving forward.

Epic Games began crediting creators last year, Billboard reported, and it directly pays creators to use their viral dances after multiple creators, including "Renegade" choreographer Jalaiah Harmon, called it out.

But some creators, like Hanagami, have continued to accuse Fortnite of taking their dance moves without permission or proper compensation.

The suit accuses Epic Games of profiting from Hanagami's choreography, because the emote is an in-game purchase that costs real money.

Players can buy the emote with in-game currency accrued by either playing the game or purchasing it with real-world money. The emote costs about $5 in real currency. Hanagami's lawyers demand that Epic Games remove the emote from its store and pay Hanagami any profit made from it.

"Epic’s sale of Kyle’s registered choreography as an item in the Fortnite Item Shop without his knowledge or authorization is fundamentally unfair," Hecht said.

Hanagami "felt compelled to file the suit to stand up for the many choreographers whose work is similarly appropriated," according to Hecht.

"Copyright law protects choreography just as it does for other forms of artistic expression," he said. "Epic should respect that fact and pay to license the artistic creations of others before selling them."

This post has been updated with further description of the 2019 Supreme Court decision.