Epic Games Sued for Allegedly Stealing Copyrighted Dance Moves

The similarities between Hanagami's dance and the Fortnite emote are striking.
The similarities between Hanagami's dance and the Fortnite emote are striking. / Courtesy of Hecht Partners

YouTuber and choreographer Kyle Hanagami has filed a suit against Epic Games alleging the developer stole a copyrighted dance of his for its "It's Complicated" Fortnite emote (H/T Polygon).

In 2017, Hanagami posted video of a dance he choreographed to the Charlie Puth song "How Long," which has since amassed 35.7 million views. His suit, filed in federal court for the Central District of California on Tuesday, says Epic took the "hook" of his dance and put it at the start of the "It's Complicated" emote without seeking his permission. Epic released the emote in August 2020.

In the early days of the Fortnite explosion, Epic fielded several suits that accused it of stealing dance moves. Most of those suits were put on hold when a Supreme Court decision changed the process in copyright suits because the plaintiffs did not yet have copyrights on the dances in question.

This is where Hanagami's case differs: He already owns the copyright for the dance in question. His lawyers have created a thorough side=by-side video showing his dance and the Fortnite emote, and the comparison makes a compelling case. The unofficial Fortnite wiki also lists Hanagami's dance as the inspiration for the emote.

On the other hand, the emote continues beyond the segment isolated by Hanagami's lawyers, and that portion of the dance's connection to Hanagami's work is less apparent. The emote also includes a different song than the one Hanagami used for his choreography.

Although Hanagami owns the copyright to his dance, such copyrights are infamously complicated. His lawyers would likely need to prove Epic copied most of his work, rather than just a few moves.

Hanagami's suit asks for a court order to stop Epic Games from using the "It's Complicated" emote, plus unspecified statutory and compensatory damages and legal fees.