What Fortnite's Dance Emotes May Owe To The Black Artists Who Created Them

One of the many purchasable dance emotes in Fortnite is from Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” It’s called the Tidy Emote, and goes for 500 V-Bucks, the equivalent of $US5 ($7) in the game’s rotating store. Players who get it can make their character mimic Snoop’s wheel turning gesture from the video’s “park it like it’s hot” chorus.

It’s not clear if Snoop cares that it is in the game. We asked. He didn’t reply. But last week, some other musicians did start talking about this kind of thing, raising the question of what the makes of Fortnite owe to the artists who inspire them. The discussion is part of a legacy of concerns about how black artists’ work is appropriated by mainstream—whiter—culture.

Late last week, Chance the Rapper made this point in a brief series of tweets proposing that Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite, should include music alongside the emotes rather than just silent dance animations.

Fortnite should put the actual rap songs behind the dances that make so much money as Emotes,” he wrote last Friday. “Black creatives created and popularised these dances but never monetised them. Imagine the money people are spending on these Emotes being shared with the artists that made them.”

Other unlockable dances in the game include BlocBoy JB‘s from “Shoot” and 2 Milly‘s from “Milly Rock.”

While neither responded to a request for comment, both of them retweeted Chance’s remarks, with BlocBoy adding “We Need Dat Cash.” 2 Milly’s dance was added to the game just last week and retitled “Swipe it.”

Malik Forté, a presenter for Blizzard’s Overwatch League, noted that while the Milly Rock dance has been popular for a few years, plenty of Fortnite players would now know it by a different name, possibly even thinking Epic invented it.

“For the culture, I thought u should know the true origin,” he wrote, which 2 Milly also retweeted. The Swipe It dance emote is unlocked at tier 63 on the game’s season five battle pass, which costs $US9.50 ($13) to unlock.

Players can then pay extra to unlock the emote without having to grind for it. The dance has also been featured in marketing for the new content, but without any mention of 2 Milly, something not lost on the Brooklyn MC’s followers.

When asked about the issue, a spokesperson for Epic said it had no comment. Milly responded to Kotaku, saying he wishes Epic would have reached out to him prior to putting his dance in the game.

“I do feel like Chance was very correct in what he said and that if you would have incorporated the song along with the dance title ‘MillyRock’ in Fortnite instead of not using the record and changing the name to the “swipe it” stealing away from my artwork then I’d might be OK with it if we worked out some type of agreement,” he said.

“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 ... I don’t feel it’s appropriate that my art (dance) which is a big part of culture is basically stolen.”

2 Milly added that he’s been working with his attorneys who will be reaching out to Epic about the issue. “I just feel like the appropriate thing to do is compensate me with a fair amount for my addition to the game.”


Epic is far from alone in commodifying popular dances and repackaging them for sale in its game. Blizzard has done it with World of Warcraft for years, recently adding them to Overwatch as well.

Bungie’s online shooter series Destiny includes purchasable dances ranging from Michael Jackson’s moves in Beat It and MC Hammer’s hammer dance to the titular dance of Cali Swag District’s Teach Me How To Dougie.

Fortnite’s unparalleled popularity and profitability has elevated it to the forefront of the discussion. If anyone can afford to collaborate with outside musical artists on the work it’s borrowing from them, surely Epic can.

Some people on Twitter pushed back against Chance’s suggestion, though, arguing that since the dances were animated and put into the game by programmers and artists at Epic, it doesn’t make sense for the artists who originally created them to get a cut of the money, or even credit.

In follow-up tweets, Chance focused on the idea that the originators of the dance moves that Epic is using should also benefit black creators of those dances, an idea that echoes the trend in which the work of black artists is ignored while white people profit off it.

As cultural critic Lisa Tomlinson concisely pointed out in a 2016 short essay on the economic exploitation of black music, the past hundred years of music in America are filled with examples.

Violinist Paul Whiteman was proclaimed the “King of Jazz” in the 1920s, Benny Goodman became the “King of Swing” in the 1930s, and decades later Elvis Presley became the “King of Rock ‘N’ Roll.” Maybe nothing demonstrates just how ingrained this legacy of theft is than Back To The Future trying to spin a white boy from the 80s giving Chuck Berry the idea for Johnny B. Goode as humorously ironic.

How Swipe It, the dance emote inspired by 2 Milly appears in Fortnite. (Gif: Fortnite, YouTube )

Fortnite: Battle Royale is free but profits are being made. Everyone can play it without ever spending a dime. In practice, though, there’s an elaborate market for in-game trinkets and cosmetic accessories, as well as custom emotes so people’s characters can perform popular dance moves. According to estimates by the market research group SuperData, this system earned Fortnite makers over $US300 ($404) million in May alone.

The stuff Epic sells in the game doesn’t just appear out of thin air though, and with all this money sloshing around, Chance and those in agreement with him are wondering what that means for the artists whose work originally inspired these dances.

Epic isn’t trying to pretend it invented the dances in question. The whole point is that they’re already extremely well known and popular. That’s why people would be willing to spend money on them in the first place. Instead, the nature of dance emotes in virtual settings means that they can be monetized in a context completely cut off from the original, real world one in which they became popular, including being renamed something completely different.

Anyone can do the dance in real life for free. Millions mimicked Snoop’s when the original music video came out and could perform it in the club or at one of Snoop’s concerts as often as they liked. It was part of a larger fandom around his music and the persona he had crafted for himself.

Fortnite tries to cash in on that by letting you pay to deploy that coolness in its own world, devoid of the music or connections to the people who created it.

Dances and hand gestures can’t be copyrighted or trademarked in the same way song lyrics or computer code can be, not that some haven’t tried. Wrestler Diamond Dallas Page sued Jay Z in 2005 for using the two-handed “Diamond Cutter” gesture he popularised in the 90s. The two eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

As of last February, Jay Z has allegedly filed legal documents to try and secure ownership of the gesture for himself. And of course there’s Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, one of the most famous dances of all time. Jackson was able to patent the shoes he used to perform it but not the moves themselves.


Comments

    Dances and hand gestures can’t be copyrighted or trademarked in the same way song lyrics or computer code can b

    I’m pretty sure choreography can be copyrighted ... ? Maybe there’s some minimum requirements around it (like a single move mightn’t be enough to amount to an artistic work).

      Yeah. Im also pretty sure they can be copyrighted. I mean i can almost guarantee if Fornite tried to sell a moonwalk emote the michael jackson estate would be able to sue them for copyright infringement.

        Secret World Legends (and the original) has the non-monetised moonwalk and a number of his dances monetised. Also has Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé ones.

        One thing this article makes me wonder, is if there are any dances by any other ethnicities beyond black in the game, or if it’s only a big deal if the person not being paid is black.

          Fair question to ask imho.

            Of course there are dance emotes created by white people, there's never a suggestion about that. The article is showing how this is another example of black culture being appropriated for commerical gains by white creators, something that's been happening for decades.

              I guess at this point, the fact is you either find a way to copyright it somehow or it's fair game. I get what the articles saying, but if it's in the public domain, noone owes anyone anything.

                Do you have to actively copyright to claim against it? For a photo for instance, it automatically belongs to the photographer including copyright (unless taken under employment, then the employer usually owns in).

                  I'm not a copyright expert, same with everyone else here. These are good questions for an expert.

              But it's not black culture. As you said, not only black people have created these dances. They're ripping off everyone.

              You're shoehorning race into this when it's actually a copyright issue.

      From the website "Copyright of Choreographic Works".

      ...choreographic works' do not include social dance steps and simple routines."

      Epic can easily point to that clause to escape any requirement to pay anyone.

        Gonna hazard a guess that the folks starting the discussion are fully aware of this, and this is why Chance suggested Epic have music added alongside it, to enable the copyright claim and payment.

        It legally doesn't count, but I assume they wish it did and think it should, and in the absence of legal requirement, they'd hope for a moral one instead.

    I don’t see why this is a black vs white issue?

    Surely it is a copyright issue to do with the choreographer and the software company? Most of the artists mentioned probably didn’t come up with those moves in the first place and who knows what colour the choreographers were?

    I do agree those artists deserve to get paid for having their work not just ripped off but sold to make a profit though. I though the exact same thing when dance emotes first popped up.

    Is every single dance in fortnite created by black people? Because if people from other races created some of them, isn't this their issue as well?

    Copyright issues affects all of us, no matter what our race.

    I think this is a worthy article. However, I take issue with it solely being the focus on black artists being wronged.

    Fornite should be compensating artists they take dances moves from to sell, No matter the skin colour. Don't go down the road of being as moronic as that video on "Digital Blackface".

    Has anyone pointed out that doing so would cost money. if they had to licence every track and dance from a creator, then epic would just not put them in, in the first place. that or the dances would cost way more.

      Why wouldn't an artist wan to piggy back off of the success of the most popular video game in the world at the moment.

        I mean they probably should be paying them royalties for it. it's just never going to happen. if it ever comes to forcing the issue they'll just drop the service.

          You don't know that. As creators themselves they might see how this is a good thing to do. Not everyone is automatically a bad person.

        As the article said - the dance moves don't popularise the origin of the moves. Hell, I've seen the Tidy dance numerous times, and thought "how odd" - and hadnt placed it from Snoop's Drop It video. And I bought the album when it came out. Saw that video dozens of times.

        But , as Chance suggested - if the emotes had 5-10 second licensed loops of the tracks, even the beat - I'd be buying more dance emotes, tje artist gets a few cents - and legit exposure, Fortnite BR gets a bit more audioscape flavour, Epic sells more dance emotes - and everyone's happy. Would seem an all round winner of an idea right?

          Everyone's happy... except Epic who has to undergo contract negotiations with record labels (who also want THEIR piece of the pie) to get licencing drawn up, negotiate usage limitations, and retire emotes when that licencing expires, revisit the contract and negotiate further if devs want to touch/expand on anything out of scope of the original contracts etc, all so that they can enjoy the privilege and benefit of giving someone else money who they currently don't have to.

          The increased sales by linking the tune clips may not necessarily outweigh the enormous pain in the ass hassle of jumping through those particular hoops.

          (Not to mention how if someone just hops about, it's pretty easy to ignore them, but someone spamming clips of 'drop it like it's hot' or whatever other tiny slice of earworm gets approved is going to get really old, really fast. So Epic would need to code in some way to mute peoples' emotes to prevent matches turning into the world's most unoriginal and tedious jam session/rap battle.)

            I get what you're saying, and obviously, there would have to be some license negotiations - but..
            *Epic can legally appropriate the dances already. Hardly puts the artist/record company in a plum position for negotiations. "You can take our offer (standard/same for all tracks) - or we'll use the unpatentable/copyright free dances for nada.
            *License expiry - Would hardly affect players, only store listings. Eg. You can play or stream RB tracks you've bought prior to the license expiry/store delisting, I don't see why this would be any different.
            * Cacophony - you mean the current generic unlicensed tracks don't already get spammed in dance offs/kill victory dances? Same deal - better tracks.

            You make some fair points, but I believe, from the experience of licensed music in other games, none of these are dealbreakers.

    not sure why this is presented as a black issue when its clearly a potential copyright issue no matter where the choregrpahy came from?

    This is why the world is a messed up place. So it's only bad if it is taken from a "Black Creative" , but if you are White, Korean, The Stig, Russian, Seinfeld etc etc.... who cares. If this is whats going to happen / make news i can't wait to see all the youtubers etc sued for dancing in on of their videos....

    Does nobody else think having music play when you do the dance is an awful idea?
    Imagine what that would sound like if more than one person danced at the same time. Or did 2 different dances in proximity to each other. Now imagine 5 or 10 people.
    You could make it so you'd only hear your own music, and then the whole exercise would be pointless. You could do the 5-10 second loop idea, and that would get old SO FAST you wouldn't want to dance anymore.

    Just terrible.

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