In the hit song “Milly Rock,” 2 Milly raps that he’ll do the title dance move “on any block.” But when it comes to video game avatars doing a similar move called “Swipe It,” that’s where the rapper is drawing a line.
Variety reports that 2 Milly is suing Fortnite developers Epic Games, alleging they stole his “Milly Rock” moves for the popular game Fortnite. In the game, players can personalize their avatars with dance moves known as “emotes,” and 2 Milly says the “Swipe It” emote is a direct theft of his signature move.
According to CBC News, several of Fortnite’s emotes are inspired by already-existing dance moves, including Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and “The Carlton,” made famous by Alfonso Ribeiro on the TV show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Although Fortnite itself is free, the emotes are not, and Tech Crunch reports that emote purchases contribute to the millions in revenue Epic Games nets on a monthly basis. Epic is not sharing those earnings with the dances’ creators, a point illuminated by Chance the Rapper in a July tweet: “Black creatives created and popularized these dances but never monetized them. Imagine the money people are spending on these Emotes being shared with the artists that made them.”
David L. Hecht of Pierce Bainbridge, the firm representing 2 Milly in this dispute, told Variety, “This isn’t the first time that Epic Games has brazenly misappropriated the likeness of African-American talent. Our client Lenwood ‘Skip’ Hamilton is pursuing similar claims against Epic for use of his likeness in the popular ‘Cole Train’ character in the ‘Gears of War’ video game franchise. Epic cannot be allowed to continue to take what does not belong to it.”
The lawsuit alleges copyright infringement and violation of California rights of publicity. Copyrighting dance moves is difficult but not impossible, as Christopher Coble notes on the Celebrity Justice FindLaw blog. “[T]he work just needs to be fixed in some tangible form,” he writes. The U.S. Copyright Office will accept video recordings of a performance as a tangible form for choreographic works.
For his part, 2 Milly says he’s seeking respect for his work. ”‘Milly Rock’ is my craft, my everything. It’s my signature move, it is me. I perform it at every show I’ve ever had, you know what I’m saying?” he told CBC News. “So for them to take that actual move and throw it in the game and rename it the ‘Swipe It,’ it’s like, ‘let’s steal it from him.’”
He says he’s received that respect from fellow artists. ”When Beyoncé did the ‘Milly Rock’ in her performance, she actually reached out. When JLo did the ’Milly Rock’ in her recent performance that had it planned, she reached out.”
Epic Games’ public relations manager Nick Chester told CBC News in an email that the company does not comment on ongoing litigation.