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Fortnite Choreography Case: Ninth Circuit Sets New Precedent in Dance Copyright Laws

The Ninth Circuit reversed a district court's dismissal in the Fortnite choreography copyright case, setting a precedent in the legal treatment of choreographic works and potentially reshaping artistic copyright laws.

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BNN Correspondents
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Fortnite Choreography Case: Ninth Circuit Sets New Precedent in Dance Copyright Laws

In a seismic shift within the legal world of artistic expression, the Ninth Circuit recently overturned a district court's dismissal in the Fortnite choreography copyright case involving world-renowned choreographer Kyle Hanagami. The appellate court diverged considerably from the district court's reductionist approach towards choreography, challenging its interpretation and setting the stage for an impending legal showdown that could redefine the future of choreographic copyrights.

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A Clash of Interpretations

In 2020, Fortnite, the hugely popular online gaming phenomenon, introduced an emotive dance sequence dubbed 'It's Complicated'. The dance routine, accompanied by an original soundtrack, quickly became a favorite among players. However, the routine soon faced backlash from Hanagami, who claimed that four counts of the 'It's Complicated' emote copied his choreography from a dance routine titled 'How Long'. Subsequently, Hanagami sued Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, for infringement.

The district court dismissed Hanagami's claims, stating that individual dance poses are not protectable and that the moves in question were a minor component of Hanagami's work. This narrow interpretation of dance choreography's protectability sparked controversy, with critics arguing that it failed to consider the deeper creative elements present within a choreographic work.

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The Ninth Circuit's Groundbreaking Response

In a landmark decision, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's ruling. The appellate court criticized the district court's reduction of choreography to mere poses and its failure to consider the creative elements of arrangement and selection of the dance moves. The Ninth Circuit emphasized that these elements can transform unprotectable individual moves into a protectable choreographic work.

Moreover, the Ninth Circuit rejected the notion that a dance sequence's protectability depends solely on its length within the larger choreography. Instead, it stressed the importance of both quantitative and qualitative assessments, highlighting that short sequences can still be significant and protectable if qualitatively important.

Implications for the Future

The Ninth Circuit's decision paves the way for further discovery and expert testimony in the Fortnite case. More importantly, it sets a precedent in the legal treatment of choreographic works. By acknowledging the creative elements and artistic importance of dance sequences, regardless of their length, the court has suggested a future where choreography may receive similar legal consideration to other forms of artistic expression, such as musical compositions. This shift in perspective could potentially reshape the boundaries of artistic copyright laws, redefining what is considered protectable in the realm of dance choreography.

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