Microsoft-owned Turn 10 Studios, which develops the Forza series of racing games for Xbox and PC, today announced it would be removing two controversial dance emotes from its latest entry, Forza Horizon 4. The news, spotted by Polygon and announced on Forza’s website as part of the most recent update release notes, marks the first instance of a game developer backing away from asserting its right to copy and include a virtual version of a dance move popularized in real life. The news follows numerous lawsuits against Fortnite creator Epic Games for doing the same in its massively popular battle royale game.
Turn 10 does not make any mention of legal issues surrounding the two emotes, dubbed the “Carlton” and the “Floss.” Instead, the developer lists the removals under a section at the bottom of the release notes title, “Other Improvements,” simply stating both dances “are no longer available.”
The Cartlon refers to the iconic dance popularized by actor Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and is now suing Epic over the inclusion of the dance in Fortnite last year under the name “Fresh.” The “Floss” dance, on the other hand, was popularized, but allegedly not technically invented, by a social media star known as “Backpack Kid,” whose legal name is Russell Horning. Horning’s mother is suing Epic on her son’s behalf, similarly claiming that Epic has violated her son’s copyright to the dance and is capitalizing on his likeness by using it in the game to sell virtual goods, primarily the $10 Fortnite season subscription service Epic calls the Battle Pass.
Both lawsuits are being brought by the same law firm, which is also representing rapper 2 Milly regarding the use of his “Milly Rock” dance in Fortnite. (2 Milly’s lawsuit kicked off the legal frenzy in early December, after months of speculation that the rapper would follow through on on his vocal claim that Epic exploits him and other creators by selling dance emotes ripped from pop culture.)
Just yesterday, the mother of another minor, known only as “Orange Shirt Kid,” filed a near-identical lawsuit for Epic’s use of her son’s dance, known as the “Random” but dubbed “Orange Justice” in Fortnite. Orange Shirt Kid submitted the dance to Epic via a recorded video of himself as an invalid entry in the company’s Boogie Down emote contest. It was later included in the game anyway as a free unlockable emote after fans decried the fact that Orange Shirt Kid was passed over in part because his entry was ineligible because he was under 18 years of age.
The latter lawsuit, while also filed by the same law firm as the others, mentions trademark violation in addition to copyright infringement and misappropriation of likeness, as Epic happened to include the boy’s spoken phrase, “It’s also a great exercise move,” as a text description of the emote. (It is not clear whether Orange Shirt Kid’s mother has actually applied for the trademark at the time of the filing.)
All that said, it looks like the Fortnite emote controversy is only getting more complicated, as Turn 10 becomes the first developer to distance itself from legal threats surrounding the use of virtual dance moves. For a game like Forza Horizon 4, which is primarily about racing cars, losing two popular emotes is not a big deal — they could only really be viewed when looking at your custom avatar.
For Fortnite, however, the emotes represent a big part of its business. Epic makes hundreds of millions of dollars a month primarily through its virtual in-game goods like emotes and skins (character costumes). If copying emotes from pop culture becomes a legal risk, the company may have to avoid capitalizing on pop culture as it has in the past, depending on how the lawsuits progress in the coming months. Meanwhile, Turn 10 may not be the only developer that decides a dance emote isn’t worth the risk of stepping into the growing legal quagmire.