A panel of US appeals court judges has reignited the legal battle over Fortnite dance moves by reversing the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by professional choreographer Kyle Hanagami against Epic Games. This decision, made by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, is an important development in copyright law and could have significant implications for the rights of choreographers and other creatives in the digital age.

The panel’s opinion, filed on November 1st, raises crucial questions about the protection of choreographic works. While the lower court held that individual poses in a dance cannot be copyrighted, the appeals court disagreed, stating that the arrangement of poses can be subject to copyright protection. Judge Richard Paez, writing for the panel, likened calling poses “just ‘notes'” in music, emphasizing that choreography encompasses a variety of elements, including timing, use of space, and even the energy of the performance.

The panel concluded that Hanagami had plausibly alleged that the creative choices he made in selecting and arranging elements of the choreography were substantially similar to the choices made by Epic Games in creating the emote. These creative choices included the movement of limbs, hands and fingers, head and shoulder movement, and tempo. This finding supports the argument that choreographic works are not merely a collection of individual poses but encompass a wide range of creative elements.

The court’s decision has significant implications for the rights of choreographers and other creatives in the age of short-form digital media. It recognizes the importance of protecting the creative choices made in choreography and affirms that choreographic works are more than just a series of poses. By expanding the definition of choreographic works to include various elements such as body position, shape, actions, transitions, and use of space, the court acknowledges that choreography is a complex art form that deserves copyright protection.

A Victory for Hanagami

Kyle Hanagami’s lead attorney, David Hect, hailed the court’s decision as “extremely impactful” for the rights of choreographers. Hanagami now has the opportunity to litigate his claims against Epic Games and seek recognition and compensation for the alleged similarity between his choreography and the dance moves featured in Fortnite. This victory represents a significant step forward for choreographers in their fight for recognition and protection in the digital age.

This is not the first time that Epic Games has faced legal challenges related to Fortnite’s emote feature. The popular game has been the subject of multiple lawsuits, with individuals claiming that the game’s emotes infringe upon their copyright-protected choreography. While Epic Games has won some cases, others, including one involving Alfonso Ribeiro from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, remain on hold.

The renewed legal battle over Fortnite dance moves highlights the complexities and significance of copyright protection for choreographic works. The court’s decision to reverse the dismissal of Kyle Hanagami’s lawsuit marks a crucial turning point in the recognition and protection of choreographers’ rights. The expanded definition of choreographic works and acknowledgment of various creative elements in the court’s opinion demonstrate a growing understanding of the artform and the need to adapt copyright law to the digital age. As the legal battle continues, the outcome of these lawsuits will have far-reaching implications for the future of dance, creativity, and intellectual property rights in the entertainment industry.

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