As Fortnite continues its reign as a pop culture juggernaut, hip-hop artists like 2 Milly and Chance the Rapper are wondering why creators haven’t been credited or compensated for the signature dance moves used in the game.
Several of Fortnite’s emotes are based on moves created by hip-hop artists – ‘Tidy’ is a move Snoop Dogg used in his 2004 number one hit “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” and ‘Swipe It’ is pretty clearly 2 Milly’s ‘Milly Rock.’
The dance moves in question have all become viral sensations in their own right, and they’ve spread among hip-hop artists and through pop culture writ large. Fellow hip-hop artists have used them in their own videos or even during Super Bowl performances.
But where the dances’ viral spread is usually understood as fandom or, in the case of fellow artists, as nods to the moves’ creators, Fortnite’s use of the dance moves is a bit different because the game is making money by selling them to players. Now, the artists who created the dances are wondering where their share of Fortnite’s huge revenues is.
Insider has created a video breaking down the situation, which you can watch here:
Fortnite's use of viral hip-hop dances has caused a debate over cultural appropriation in video games 🎮 pic.twitter.com/d6VeqZF8Bn
— INSIDER (@thisisinsider) September 25, 2018
In the video, an attorney who specializes in American intellectual property law explains that the U.S. Copyright Office doesn’t grant copyright for individual dance moves. She says they’re treated more like words or phrases, and that copyrighting them could infringe on other choreographers’ creative expression.
That means it’s probably a tough proposition if 2 Milly or other hip-hop artists try to sue Epic Games for using their dances in Fortnite.
However, the ethical question remains: is it right for Epic to re-appropriate and monetize popular hip-hop steps, using them for profit and to gain cultural relevance?
Chance the Rapper has suggested that one approach Epic might take is to sell the dances along with the songs they were created for, thereby giving the original artists credit and sharing profits, while associating the dances with the music they were created to highlight.
Fortnite should put the actual rap songs behind the dances that make so much money as Emotes. 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
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) July 13, 2018
Since its launch a year ago, Fortnite has made an estimated $1.2 billion USD in profits. Should Epic decide to launch a partnership program for hip-hop emotes, artists could stand to do very well. But perhaps more importantly, it would make sure that the people who created the moves that are helping to drive Fortnite’s success are getting proper credit for their work.