Fortnite creator Epic Games is trying to avoid yet another lawsuit over dance emotes. The company preemptively filed a complaint against Matt Geiler, also known as the “Dancing Pumpkin Man” from a 2006 viral video. Geiler reportedly told Epic to stop offering a Halloween-themed emote called “Pump It Up,” which copies his dance and briefly gives avatars a jack-o’-lantern for a head. Now, Epic is asking courts to declare that it didn’t infringe Geiler’s trademark or copyright.
Epic has faced several lawsuits over dance emotes, including one from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Alfonso Ribeiro. But this case is a little different. Where most suits have hinged purely on dance moves, Geiler apparently says the combined dance and pumpkin head constitute a recognizable character. Also, unlike the other cases, Epic previously struck a licensing deal with Geiler — something he’s mentioned in a Facebook post comment and a Mel Magazine profile. The complaint doesn’t explain why Geiler sent a cease-and-desist letter after reaching this deal, but it indicates that he discussed suing Epic over the use of his likeness.
Epic’s preemptive complaint makes some standard defenses. It says that Fortnite doesn’t reference the Dancing Pumpkin Man name, the emote uses a different-looking jack-o’-lantern, and Geiler made a “clear admission” that he’d licensed the likeness. Epic also (presumably) paid someone to find every other pumpkin-headed character ever created, including one of the silliest-looking Spider-Man villains ever created, to prove Geiler’s look isn’t unique.
Most of the Fortnite dance suits were temporarily withdrawn earlier this year, following a Supreme Court decision that required people to register a copyright before suing. Another performer filed a lawsuit in April, but the case covered appropriating his likeness, not infringing a copyright.