Choreographer Settles Copyright Lawsuit Concerning Fortnite Dance Emote

On Monday, February 12, 2024, choreographer Kyle Hanagami settled his copyright lawsuit against Epic Games, Inc. alleging that the video game developer and distributor copied his copyrighted dance moves.

Hanagami is a Los Angeles-based choreographer who has choreographed dance routines for Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Justin Bieber. He has partnered with globally recognized brands and has a substantial social media following. On November 11, 2017, Hanagami published a YouTube video featuring himself and others dancing to Charlie Puth’s song “How Long.” The video had nearly 36 million views as of May 2022, around the time Hanagami filed his lawsuit.

In August 2020, Epic Games released a dance emote titled “It’s Complicated” in the popular video game Fortnite. Hanagami claimed that the emote “contains the most recognizable portion of [his]. . . [c]horeography]” from the YouTube video in question. Specifically, Hanagami alleged that the emote copied four counts of movement from his video. The emote in question consists of 16 counts of movement.

Hanagami applied for a copyright registration for the choreography in his video in February 2021. The Copyright Office approved the application and registered the choreography as a choreographic work on February 20, 2021. Hanagami filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Epic Games in 2022 in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California. Epic Games moved to dismiss the case, arguing that Hanagami “failed to state a copyright claim because the allegedly copied dance steps were not protectable and the works were not substantially similar.” The district court granted Epic Games’s motion to dismiss.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, holding that “poses” are not the sole relevant element of choreography, and that a choreographic work may also include other various elements that are unprotectable when viewed in isolation but protectable when combined. The Ninth Circuit further ruled that Hanagami plausibly alleged a claim for substantial similarity. The document filed by Hanagami this week states that the case is dismissed with prejudice.

Epic Games previously faced similar lawsuits alleging copying of viral dance moves. Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton Banks on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” filed a copyright infringement suit in 2019 related to the Carlton Dance. That same year, professional saxophone player Leo Pellegrino filed a trademark lawsuit alleging that Epic Games stole his “Signature Move” for use as a Fortnite emote.

Additional Reading

Epic Games resolves ‘Fortnite’ dance moves copyright lawsuit, Reuters (February 13, 2024)

[Proposed] Stipulation of Dismissal With Prejudice and Order of Dismissal (Case No. 2:22-cv-02063)

Kyle Hanagami v. Epic Games, Inc. et al (Case No. 2:22-cv-02063)

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Opinion

Photo Credit: Julio Ricco /