In a world of GIFs and memes, most of us are accustomed to instantly dealing with every bit of human movement. We can decipher what it means, who does it and how cool it is.
We see pivoting legs on YouTube, we think: Beyoncé. Crossed cuffs and gallop legs spread with the field in motion: the Korean pop star Psy. Interpreting even the most fragmented body language on digital platforms is a twenty-first century skill, perfected largely by social media.
Now, this skill is involved in a lawsuit against the maker of "Fortnite", the extremely popular battle-royal video game. In the case, filed Wednesday, Brooklyn rapper 2 Milly says the game stole the dance he choreographed and, by extension, diverted his identity.
Think about it for a minute. The "Fortnite" case raises broader existential questions about our animal being. The way technology shapes the fundamental, hard-wired ability with which we are born, allows us to recognize each other by a fraction of a second that constitutes a person's identity. The Web is full of moving portraits of all kinds, telling the kind of stories about ourselves – about the character, personal style and quirks – that we only had before from photographs. Some subtle but very expressive markings on an animated GIF, repeated in an infinite looping video clip, are enough to read Rihanna's impertinent and realized look.
2 Milly's case revolves around a few quick and extraordinarily simple movements. He continues Epic Games, the maker of "Fortnite", for the use of his "Milly Rock" dance. Basically, it's a slap with one arm, then the other; rock and roll the hips, repeat. It was featured in the 2 Milly 2014 music video of the same name. Now the Milly Rock – or something that looks great – looks great – is available for "Fortnite" players to buy for their avatars. This is what motivated the trial.
"Fortnite" is downloadable for free. the game brings in about $ 1 billion in revenue, selling dance-winning outfits and emotes to more than 200 million players so they can customize their avatars. The emote that looks like Milly Rock is called "Swipe It" in "Fortnite" and it's a near-digital version, armed elbows, rolling hips and everything.
The rapper (aka Terrence Ferguson) alleges in his lawsuit that "Epic" unfairly benefits from the exploitation of his protected creative expression and likeness. "
The case can be summarized as follows: does the average person immediately associate "Swipe It" with 2 Milly? Is this dance only his own and does it define his personality – his character, the way he presents himself to us?
If so, says intellectual property lawyer Paul Kilmer, "the unfair competition and advertising claim [2 Milly] the approved. And it simulates its resemblance and personality, so that it can violate federal or federal laws regarding unfair competition, or state advertising rights. Maybe he could succeed on these claims. "
According to Kilmer, a dance routine really defines a person's personality, "it's a very interesting question that I've never seen resolved."
"It will depend on the facts," he adds. "Can he put on the stand people who will say that the public associates with these movements and with anyone else. If they can do it, they will have a chance. "
More and more athletes, artists and other artists are worried about the use of their appearance and personality on video game platforms, says intellectual property lawyer Mark Sommers. The law plays with technology. "The quality of video games has become so real," says Sommers, "that they are able to offer products that detail those particular elements and representations that the previous technology did not allow."
In addition, social media has taught us to digest information much faster than before, which suggests to Sommers that we will see more cases like 2 Milly.
This case concerns more than damages or potential royalties for 2 Milly. It goes to the way our brain processes meaning. What is the smallest information that identifies a person? What fragment of our motor vocabulary – a walk, a strand of hair – is the identity? What piece of movement, what hand gesture or even gesture plus time and circumstances?
"Your way of communicating with people has changed with the sending of SMS rather than with phone calls," says Sommers. "Thus, the ability of people to digest information quickly and succinctly allowed them to digest the identification elements in a succinct and quick way."