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9th Circuit resets dance copyright law in Fortnite case

Fortnite choreographer case: Ninth Circuit sets new precedent for dance copyright law

In a seismic shift in the legal landscape of artistic expression, the Ninth Circuit recently overturned a district court’s dismissal of a Fortnite choreography copyright case involving world-renowned choreographer Kyle Hanagami. The appeals court differed significantly from the district court’s simplified approach to choreography, raising questions about its interpretation and setting the stage for a coming legal showdown that could redefine the future of choreography copyright.

conflict of interpretations

In 2020, the hugely popular online game Fortnite debuted an emotional dance clip titled ‘it’s complicated’. The dance moves, accompanied by an original soundtrack, quickly became a favorite among players. However, the move soon met with strong opposition from Flora, who claimed that four of the moves in the “It’s complicated” expression were plagiarized from his dance moves, titled ” ‘how long’. Subsequently, Flora sued Epic Games, the creator of “Fortnite”, for copyright infringement.

The district court rejected Flora’s claim, saying that individual dance poses were not protected and that the movements in question were only a small part of Flora’s work. This narrow interpretation of choreography’s protective capabilities has sparked controversy, with critics arguing that it fails to take into account the deeper creative elements of a dance work.

Ninth Circuit’s groundbreaking response

In a landmark ruling, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision. The appeals court criticized the district court for reducing the choreography to mere gestures and failing to consider the creative elements of the arrangement and selection of dance moves. The Ninth Circuit emphasized that these elements can transform unprotected individual movements into protected choreographic works.

Furthermore, the Ninth Circuit rejected the notion that the protectability of a dance sequence depends solely on its length within a larger choreography. Rather, it emphasizes the importance of both quantitative and qualitative assessment, emphasizing that short sequences are still important and protectable if qualitative matters are important.

Impact on the future

The Ninth Circuit’s decision paves the way for further discovery and expert testimony in the Fortnite case. More importantly, it set a precedent for the legal treatment of dance works. By recognizing the creative elements and artistic importance of a dance sequence, regardless of its length, the Court suggested that in the future choreography may be subject to similar legal considerations as other forms of artistic expression, such as musical compositions. This shift in perspective could reshape the boundaries of artistic copyright law and redefine what is protected in the world of choreography.

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