Copyright In The Modern Era: Fortnite Allows Players To Mute Emote, Avoid Auto-Copyright Claims Against YouTubers
Fortnite is now allowing players to mute emotes that bear sufficient resemblance to pop culture occurrences in media as to incur auto-copyright claims against YouTubers posting gameplay footage.
Guest post by Timothy Geigner of Techdirt
If you had told me a few years ago that we would have multiple stories at Techdirt over copyright issues surrounding video game emotes, I would have said you were a crazy person. Unfortunately, it seems that it’s the world that is crazy instead. Fortnite in particular has been a focus of many of these stories, as a popular feature in the game is the ability to perform emotes, some of which are or are accused of being based on pop culture occurrences from other media. It is all, I can assure you, very stupid.
But people claiming likeness to Fortnite emotes isn’t the only copyright issue that surrounds their use in the game. Even when Epic has tried to do right by creators of copyrighted content, it still has managed to find itself in trouble. For example, it seems that Epic, which properly licensed Rick Astley’s meme-famous Never Gonna Give You Up audio for an emote inspired by his song, has been forced to patch the game so that players can mute the musical content of that emote. Apparently, YouTubers are finding themselves receiving copyright strikes over the song.
Fortnite introduced its Rick Astley-inspired emote just one week ago, and the company has already rolled out an update to let PC players mute the music in response to complaints: creators said they were getting copyright claims over the licensed track that plays when the emote is used.
While it’s clear that Epic licensed Astley’s song, which defined early memes for an entire generation of people, the company didn’t think of how this would affect its creator base. Giving players the ability to mute might take away from the fun of the emote, but it’s a good middle ground for now. It also allows Epic to pursue other popular tracks for its game while ensuring the creator community isn’t hurt.
This shows yet another flaw in copyright law in terms of it functioning well within the modern era of technology. Epic licensed the song properly, except that nobody planned for the obvious eventuality of that licensed emote being used by YouTubers, where the label then issued copyright strikes against those video uploads. What’s the argument by the label? Every YouTuber doing let’s plays has to license the song as well, even though they’re only playing the game? Is Epic supposed to work out a separate license for YouTube videos? Is it a public performance?
Or is this all terribly dumb and a barrier to the original purpose of copyright law? That, probably. After all, it’s not as though a snippet of a song that was otherwise licensed appearing on YouTube is somehow a replacement for that song. It’s also not as if rick-rolling weren’t an incredibly common trollish trope, for which Astley is principially famous among the present youth. Epic having to patch the audio of the emote out of its game for this reason is silly.
But that’s modern era copyright for you.