Can you copyright a dance craze? Probably, judging from human Wonder Bread Taylor Swift copyrighting lyrics from her album 1989, such as "This Sick Beat." In recent weeks, it's become a hot button issue in the gaming world, with Fortnite's dance emotes frequently lifting from popularized dances—typically ones from black artists.
One artist, 2 Milly, has fallen victim to the trend recently, with his "Milly Rock" dance landing in Fortnite's Season 5 Battle Pass as an emote. As a result, he announced today in a statement to Kotaku that he's working with attorneys about the matter.
“I just feel like the appropriate thing to do is compensate me with a fair amount for my addition to the game," he told the site. The in-game emote takes his popularized dance and renames it as "Swipe It." The "Milly Rock" dance joins the likes of dabbing (the origins of which are complicated, though it can be argued Migos' "Look At My Dab" brought it into the spotlight) and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance in the Reanimated emote. While it isn't being sold individually for a profit (the Battle Pass costs 1,000 V-Bucks and unlocks more gear at tiers the more you play), this can potentially kick off a trend of artists fighting for compensation when their work is used in games without their consent. 2 Milly also recently retweeted a fan who replied to Fortnite's twitter, urging Epic Games to "pay 2 Milly for that Milly Rock emote."
The dance emote trend was called out a week ago by well-known artist Chance the Rapper. In a tweet he writes, "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."
Obviously, Fortnite is not the first multiplayer game to have dance emotes and sell them individually. Destiny in particular is another game with dance craze-inspired emotes, such as its "Hotline Bling" inspired one from ages ago. In the statement to Kotaku, 2 Milly elaborates his agreement with Chance the Rapper's tweet, and the further repercussions of Epic Games' actions. “I do take it as a Very big deal I just wish [Epic] would have reached out with a payout and a contract being that I am solely the creator of the Dance And Song MillyRock [sic]...I don’t feel it’s appropriate that my art (dance) which is a big part of culture is basically stolen.”
Milly working with attorneys likely won't be the last of Epic Games' legal worries. In fact, it's likely just the start of it.