Things I Never Learned in Library School: Can You Copyright a Dance Move? A discussion of Fortnite
As someone who works with teens, Fortnite has been on my radar for a while. Last week, Thing 2, who is almost 10, started trying to teach me all of the Fortnite dances so we looked up some YouTube videos for the first time to really look at them. The YouTube video I found showed each Fortnite dance and where in popular culture the dance came from. Epic Games has created a game that includes dance moves that you can trace back to particular people, TV shows, or moments in popular culture. One of the most popular parts of this game was not created by them, but is really just an archive of fun and popular dance moves. Which begs the question: what type of responsibility do the creators of Fortnite have to give proper credit and monetary compensation to the creators of those dances?
It was interesting to me that just a few days later, an article appeared on Forbes asking whether or not you can copyright a dance and if Fortnite should credit the creators of the dances. As a librarian, it was a question I had asked myself while watching the YouTube video. It is a question that a lot of people are asking, and as a librarian, I think it’s an important question for us to pay attention to.
And yet I know that we frequently do dances or the names of dances appear in songs with no such attribution. You can do the mashed potato, you can do the twist . . . but do you know where those dances came from? Who started them? What about twerking? I am a librarian, but I am not a copyright librarian or lawyer, and the discussion of copyrighting dance moves is a new and interesting concept to me.
The world of dance is a world that has always fascinated me personally. I took dance lessons up until the time I graduated high school and I continue to love and support dance. I have seen every season of So You Think You Can Dance (Darius was robbed this past season) and I am also really enjoying the new World of Dance (have you seen Michael Dameski?). And yet, I have never thought about or seen the idea of copyrighting dance moves or choreography discussed. But it does make sense. Every year So You Think You Can Dance talks about their Emmy winning dance routines from previous seasons. And yet every dance contains a variety of moves that are just the basic moves of dance, whether it be a pirouette or the robot. New choreography always contains some of the very basics of dance combines with some new ideas. It’s how you put those traditional moves together in new and exciting ways that matter.
To make the Fortnite situation even more complicated, the discussion is also a discussion about cultural appropriation. You see, most of the dances that appear in Fortnite can be traced back to a variety of black artists or characters, like rappers Snoop Dogg and 2 Milly and characters from shows like Scrubs and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Chance the Rapper in particular has spoken out about Fortnite and the issue of cultural appropriation.
A huge part of teen librarianship is simply talking to teens about the things that they like, and Fortnite is definitely one of those current things. I’m glad that I have this information so I can help prompt my teens to think about the issues of copyright and cultural appropriation. I don’t have answers, but I can help lead my teens into think about the things they love in new and complex ways.
Filed under: Video Games
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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