As Fortnite continues its reign as a pop culture juggernaut, hip-hop artists like 2 Milly and Chance the Rapper are wondering why creators haven’t been credited or compensated for the signature dance moves used in the game.

2018 has been a big one for video games. Major releases included God of War, Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption 2. Smaller, indie games like Florence, Dead Cells and Celeste also came to the forefront. All good video games which garnered large audiences and critical acclaim. However, it was a video game released last year that dominated in terms of revenue and cultural impact. 2018 was about one game and one game only, and that game is, of course, Fortnite.

2018 was the year Fortnite went stratospheric, and it’s difficult to pinpoint precisely when this happened. Was it the time Drake played live and online alongside Twitch superstar Ninja and broke all sorts of online viewing records, or was it the moment Antoine Griezmann, with 900 million people watching worldwide, scored a penalty in the World Cup final and celebrated with Fortnite’s “Do The L” emote dance? Whichever one it was, Fortnite owes much of its success to staying cultural relevant by adding dance moves which the players can purchase for their online avatars. 

These are called emotes.

Several of Fortnite’s emotes are based on moves created by hip-hop artists – ‘Tidy’ is a move Snoop Dogg used in his 2004 number one hit “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” and ‘Swipe It’ is pretty clearly 2 Milly’s ‘Milly Rock.’

The dance moves in question have all become viral sensations in their own right, and they’ve spread among hip-hop artists and through pop culture writ large. Fellow hip-hop artists have used them in their own videos or even during Super Bowl performances.

Since its launch a year ago, Fortnite has made an estimated $1.2 billion USD in profits.  In August, Fortnite broke its own record. 8.3 million people were playing Fortnite concurrently. At the exact same time. For perspective, that was more than the number of people playing every other video game on Steam at that time.

The scale is unprecedented and, quite frankly, mind-boggling. Over the course of August 2018, almost 80 million people played Fortnite. In its first 200 days on iOS as a mobile app, analysts estimated Fortnite was making $1.5 million per day. Across all its platforms Fortnite made over $300 million in April 2018, a single calendar month.

Who gets the credit?

Such high recorded profits have led people to ask whether Fortnite is crediting those responsible for the popular dance moves that have added greatly to its success.

Within the community, the dances’ viral spread is usually understood as fandom or, in the case of fellow artists, as nods to the moves’ creators. Fortnite’s use of the dance moves is a bit different because the game is making money by selling them to players. This move has also recorded because of the racial element at play. Some have labelled Fortnite’s action as cultural appropriation because it features a large, white organisation profiting on the hard work of black creatives, without giving due credit. 

Popular rapper Chance The Rapper weighed in saying

Can dancers copyright their dance moves?

According to American intellectual property law, the U.S. Copyright Office doesn’t grant copyright for individual dance moves. They are treated more like words or phrases, and copyrighting them could infringe on other choreographers’ creative expression.

That means it’s probably a tough proposition if 2 Milly or other hip-hop artists try to sue Epic Games for using their dances in Fortnite.

However, the ethical question remains: is it right for Epic to re-appropriate and monetize popular hip-hop steps, using them for profit and to gain cultural relevance?