Microsoft's 'Forza Horizon 4' removes controversial dances at center of the 'Fortnite' lawsuits

Forza Horizon 4Playground Games/Microsoft StudiosPlayground Games/Microsoft Studios

  • "Fortnite" creator Epic Games has been targeted by no less than four lawsuits accusing the company of appropriating popular dance moves for profit.
  • Artists accusing 'Fortnite' of stealing their dances include "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" actor Alfonso Ribeiro, an Instagram star known as The Backpack Kid, rapper 2 Milly, and the mother of a "Fortnite" contest entrant known as Orange Shirt Kid.
  • Weeks after the first lawsuits against Epic surfaced, Microsoft's "Forza Horizon 4" has removed two of the same dances identified in the suits against Epic.

A series of lawsuits aimed at "Fortnite" may have prompted Microsoft to remove a pair of dances from their racing game "Forza Horizon 4."

"Fortnite" Creator Epic Games has been sued on behalf of "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" actor Alfonso Ribeiro, an Instagram star known as The Backpack Kid, rapper 2 Milly, and most recently, the mother of a "Fortnite" contest loser, for allegedly appropriating their dance moves and selling them in the game.

Weeks after the lawsuits first surfaced, an update to "Forza Horizon 4" has removed the "Carlton" and Floss" avatar emotes popularized by Ribeiro and The Backpack Kid, respectively, from the game. "Forza" is a racing game, so players spend most of their time driving inside of a car, but the drivers will occasionally step out from behind the wheel to dance and celebrate.

While "Forza Horizon 4" has not been mentioned in any legal disputes, the decision by Microsoft and developer Playground Games seems to be a proactive choice to avoid disputes over a small part of the game. "Fortnite" has been the primary target of the dance-related lawsuits, but Ribeiro has also filed a suit against the makers of  "NBA 2K" for a version of the "Carlton" that appears in the game.

So far all of the cases against Epic are being handled by law firm Pierce Bainbridge. In an interview with Business Insider, Pierce Bainbridge partner David Hecht said that the firm was specifically looking at situations where Epic copied the likeness of African-American and Korean dancers. Hecht has also claimed that Epic Games repeatedly "misappropriated the likeness of African-American talent."

The most recent lawsuit against Epic is a particularly curious case because the dance in question was created as part of a "Fortnite" contest. The mother of Orange Shirt Kid, whose dance "Random" was added to "Fortnite" following a contest Epic put together in April 2018. Orange Shirt Kid did not win the contest, but his silly dance quickly went viral and was added to the game due to fan interest. Though the contest rules called for entrants to waive their right to damages, rewards, and prizes, Orange Shirt Kid's mother Rachel McCumbers is seeking monetary damages from Epic for including her son's dance in the game.

Experts have been skeptical of whether artists can claim ownership over a dance, compared to the clear copyright laws that protect music and song lyrics, but it seems that won't stop artists from trying to protect their creative interests. Epic has not issued a public response to the lawsuits, but the dances remain usable as emotes in "Fortnite."

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