A celebrity choreographer’s lawsuit over a little dance done by Fortnite avatars has been revived by a federal appeals court.
Kyle Hanagami, a Los Angeles choreographer known for his work with the K-pop bands Blackpink and Red Velvet, had alleged copyright infringement when moves from a dance he created showed up as part of a Fortnite “emote” — a short action that a player can purchase to be performed by an avatar in the video game.
An avatar’s movements in the first half of a 6-second emote called “It’s Complicated” match four beats of Hanagami’s dance to the Charlie Puth song “How Long.” That sequence is repeated 10 times in Hanagami’s video, which has 37 million views on YouTube, and the choreographer called it the most recognizable portion of the dance. (The video above, created by his legal team, shows it performed, side by side, by dancers and avatars.)
The Los Angeles district court had granted the game maker’s motion to dismiss Hanagami’s infringement claim, saying the “eight bodily movements, set to four beats of music” composed too small a segment of the work to be protectable under copyright.
In an opinion filed Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit court of appeals reversed the dismissal. The ruling said that the judges agreed with Hanagami that choreography could not be reduced to a “static collection of poses,” and that the district court failed to consider “many other expressive elements.”
Hanagami’s claim was remanded to the district court.