For a moment there, it seemed like Epic Games was going to work with creators to uplift their popular dance moves by letting players officially reenact them in Fortnite — instead of simply copying them to sell more emotes and skins for your in-game avatar.
But actress and dancer Ana Coto says Epic’s upcoming “Freewheelin’” emote doesn’t credit her for its eerily similar dance moves or its midriff baring, glasses-wearing, roller-skating skin — and it seems impossible Epic wouldn’t be aware of her contribution.
fortnite ripped off ana coto’s skate dance to “jenny from the block,” which went viral in april and inspired the Great Rollerskate Shortage of 2020. the original video has 15.7 million views on tiktok. pic.twitter.com/uuikB6deRI
— morgan sung (@morgan_sung) August 6, 2020
Where do I begin? Let’s start with the fact that Coto’s original dance went absolutely viral in April, not only racking up 15.7 million views on TikTok, but also inspiring BuzzFeed, NBC News, and Digital Trends to write profiles of Coto, crediting her with driving up sales of roller skates and reviving the hobby. (Google Trends does show a surge that hasn’t let up yet.)
If memory serves, this is the first time Fortnite has added a roller-skating character period — let alone one that looks like Coto doing her thing.
And while Coto has surpassed that view count with other videos since, each one of those articles about Coto explicitly calls out the same viral performance, set to Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny from the Block,” as the spark that set the roller skates aflame.
In other words, it seems Epic Games knows exactly what it’s doing, and it’s not a great look.
The weird part: didn’t Epic just create some pathways to avoid this kind of bad PR? Just last month, Fortnite officially recognized the creator of “The Renegade,” another viral TikTok dance by Atlanta teenager Jalaiah Harmon. It even named the emote after the actual dace. Epic also held an official TikTok dance contest, found a winner just days ago, and credited him as well:
Grab a friend and groove to the music with these smooth moves by @tiktok_us Emote Royale Winner, Michael (TikTok: michaelmejeh).
Pick up the new Verve Emote for free when you login between now and July 29 8 PM ET pic.twitter.com/pB2FmpFSga
— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) July 28, 2020
Technically, Epic does still have time to work with Coto, too — the new Freewheelin’ emote isn’t out yet (it leaked earlier this week), so the company could still credit her. But it doesn’t seem like that was the plan. The Renegade dance was similarly spotted in an upcoming build just two weeks before it arrived for real, and Coto tells The Verge that Epic hasn’t even spoken to her yet. Epic declined to comment.
All that said, it’s not clear Epic did copy her dance, or if such a thing would be illegal even if it had. It’s possible Coto simply popularized those moves on her roller skates instead of creating them herself. And so far, even dance originators haven’t had much success in court. In April, a judge ruled that the creator of the “Phone It In” dance didn’t have much of a case, dismissing most of the claims because Epic’s avatars were sufficiently “transformed” — in other words, they didn’t look like him.
Update, 5:38PM ET: Added that Coto says Epic hasn’t spoken to her yet.