A recent case filed by famous choreographer Kyle Hanagami is set to test the boundaries of copyright law in video games and on social media.
Mr. Hanagami is a popular choreographer with a large YouTube presence. He won the 2020 iHeart Music Award for Favorite Music Video Choreography for BlackPink’s “Kill This Love” and holds the title for YouTube’s most viewed choreography video of all time. Crucially, he also holds the copyright to the dance to the Charlie Puth song “How Long.”
He argues that Epic’s video game “Fortnite” rips off his dance moves. The game allows players to download specialized choreography for their avatars via an in-game purchase. One of the downloadable dances is strikingly similar to the choreography for “How Long.” Once purchased, players can make their avatars do a four-beat string of choreography, while Mr. Hanagami’s registered dance is 96 beats long. Mr. Hanagami has sued Epic in the Central District of California for copyright infringement.
This case will set the stage for the Ninth Circuit to clarify how far video games and social media companies can go in profiting off of viral dance moves. Previous cases have been unsuccessful, largely on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked copyright registrations in their dances. Recently, “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” actor Alfonso Ribeiro tried to pursue Epic for the use of his famous “Carlton dance” in Fortnite, but dropped the case because he was unable to secure a copyright registration for his dance. Because Mr. Hanagami has a registration in hand, he may be able to succeed where others have failed.
A win by Mr. Hanagami could set the stage for more creators to register their works and seek compensation for infringement, especially as viral dance crazes continue to gain popularity.
The case is Hanagami v. Epic Games, Inc., et al., Case No. 22-cv-02063 (C.D. Cal).