Fortnite's Courtroom Dance-off

About the authors:

Sauhard Alung and Anurupa Mukherjee, are students of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.

The last year witnessed a major shift in the gaming industry with the emergence and instant mainstream success of Battle Royale games such as Bluehole’s Player Unkown’s Battlegrounds and Epic Games’ Fortnite. In 2018, Fortnite earned 2.4 billion USD in revenue, which is the maximum annual revenue of any game in history, making it the biggest online game in the world. Much of this revenue comes from character skins, and especially emotes, which are short avatar animations, that the players can buy to customise their in-game avatars.

Epic Games finds itself embroiled in a legal tussle around emotes. A significant portion of the 2.4 billion USD revenue is sourced from selling these emotes to the players. Trouble lies in the fact that the emotes replicate signature dance movements created by pop culture icons such as 2 Milly’s “Milly Rock”, Alfonso Ribeiro’s “Carlton Dance”, and the Backpack Kid’s “Floss” dance. While emotes do not form an integral part of the online game, if purchased, the player’s avatar can perform these dances during Fortnite’s gameplay, thereby generating revenue.

Epic Games has neither taken any prior permission from nor paid any royalty to these artists for using the emotes which has consequently led to claims of copyright infringement against them. Thus it presently poses a fascinating jurisprudential conundrum surrounding the .