Fortnite's use of Hip-Hop culture - Video Games & Hip Hop Intersection

Monday, December 31, 2018

Intellectual Property has always being a legal topic that has been hard to truly nail down and define. With a gaming giant like Fortnite being the latest to go under the legal microscope, let's take a look at Hip-Hop’s influence on Fortnite’s revenue.

With its status as an all-encompassing culture, hip-hop has found its way into all sorts of industries ranging from fashion, skateboarding, film, sports, and even gaming. To some it may seem like an unlikely union, but doubt not; for hip-hop music and video games have quite the history, whether it’s soundtracks, style, playable characters, or even easter eggs.

Both industries are more similar than you might think. Both hip-hop and video games shifted paradigms when they first emerged in the ’70s, and both have grown into the manifest of the mainstream, generating untold millions of dollars and changing the landscape of popular culture as we know it.

Whenever hip-hop and video games manage to intersect, it usually leaves an impact on pop culture in some shape or form.

It’s no secret that, Fortnite is a huge success both in popularity and revenue, but what may be news to some is that a lot of Fortnite’s in-game animations, known as “Emotes”, are largely inspired from Hip-Hop culture and not everyone is happy about it. The biggest reason for the recent uproar being that the original creators of these popular dance moves have not been in anyway credited or compensated for the use of their original creations.

This may seem like a slight injustice but when you consider that Fortnite (a free-to-play game) well and truly holds the record for the highest monthly revenue of any game, on any platform, ever. You’ve got to ask yourself, how much money is passing by the originators of these in-demand ‘Emotes’ and going right into the pockets of Epic Games?

One of the most publicised cases to date comes in the form of Brooklyn rapper 2 Milly and his plans to sue Fortnite creator Epic Games for allegedly copying and profiting off of a dance he created in 2014, the ‘Milly Rock.’ Which first debuted in the video for his song of the same title.Since Fortnite has received a lot of backlash for debuting an emote in July of 2018 called ‘Swipe It’ (clearly inspired by the ‘Milly Rock’), the emote has since been removed from the game, leaving only Players who have previously unlocked it with the ability to still use it.

2 Milly isn’t the only artist claiming that the game turned their original dance into emotes for purchase in Fortnite without permission or pay. Rapper BlocBoy JB criticised the use of his ‘Shoot’ dance in Fortnite and actor Donald Faison claimed that Fortnite lifted a dance he performed for the TV show “Scrubs” as the game’s default dance.The ongoing feedback from the Hip-Hop community is for Epic Games to at the very least play the original songs associated with the dance moves as a way of earning royalties and garnering the traffic they deserve, as creatives inside the Hip-Hop community never monetised their creative expression, and have now seen one of the world’s largest platforms largely profit from them.

Fortnite is currently the world’s most popular game and has a massive audience that most artists can only dream of. 

“Not only is Fortnite the new hangout spot, replacing the mall, Starbucks or just loitering in the city, it’s become the coveted ‘third place’ for millions of people around the world,”  -Owen Williams, Charged

While the game is free-to-play, the majority of its earnings come from the sale of cosmetic in-game items such as emotes and outfits. The game is currently generating more than $US200 million a month in revenue and those emotes are available to more than 200 million registered players around the world, with no mention of the artists who inspired them.So, the looming questions seem to be, do Artists such as 2 Milly actually have a legal case with dance moves like the ‘Milly Rock’ being monetised without them? Can Fortnite be held legally accountable for making money off their dances? Can you copyright a dance move?

In intellectual property law, it is possible to copyright a ‘Choreographic work’ or a dance that requires more than two steps together, but not so much for an individual dance move, simple routine or ’Social dance steps’. In short, the dance must have a series of movements that are arranged in a unique, original sequence in order to have copyright protection. This is because one simple move is considered to be a building block, in which an entire choreographed dance can be built. For example, a songwriter cannot copyright a musical note but can copyright a song, which is a unique arrangement of notes.

2 Milly seems to be moving forward with planning his legal case, despite Intellectual Property lawyers informing him of his lack of grounds. It would seem that this whole situation is more of a greater ethical issue across racial, cultural and economic concerns. 2 Milly seems to be sending a message that is greater than legal grounds, he wants to expose the unethical treatment from large gaming brands, in the hopes of deterring copycat issues in the future.

The big concern here is that other games will want to emulate Fortnite’s successful revenue model, opening the floodgates to a range of games all cashing in on overpriced dance emotes and making this ethical debate even more relevant with time. By fighting what may seem like a losing battle, 2 Milly is letting the masses know that there are people that are getting burnt in the cosmetic process.

In a time of great connection, when Artists like Chance the Rapper can weigh-in on the debate and 2 Milly can heavily document his legal process, social change can move at a lot fast rate. Games can see a mass-exodus and revenue can plummet on a whim.

As I stated at the start of this article, gaming and hip-hop have seen a paralleled rise in pop culture along with a mutual respect. Mistakes will happen, sometimes brands will take some liberties, but my hope for the future is that the gaming community will become more conscious of such liberties and will right these wrongs, in the hopes of maintaining a strong and collaborative future.

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