Fortnite dance lawyer claims someone impersonated him to derail copyright lawsuits

A law firm claims that someone impersonated one of its attorneys in messages to the US Copyright Office, trying to sabotage lawsuits against Fortnite developer Epic Games. Pierce Bainbridge published a fake email supposedly sent under the name of attorney David Hecht, asking the office to reject all its copyright claims for dance moves — and confessing that “what my clients and I have done towards certain gaming companies were very wreckless [sic] and baseless.”

Hecht is the lead attorney for several people who claim Epic unlawfully copied their dances as Fortnite emotes, including rapper 2 Milly; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Alfonso Ribeiro; and most recently, the rapper BlocBoy JB. As part of the legal process, Hecht’s applied to register all these dances with the Copyright Office. But the office reportedly tipped him off to a strange message this weekend:

Recently, I noticed that my clients and I have been filing copyright claims regarding dance moves. Please have them rejected right now. If any judges are working on them, I want your workers to tell them they should be rejected/dismissed because they were containing very false information. What my clients and I have done towards certain gaming companies were very wreckless and baseless. Once again, I would like for our copyright claims to be terminated/dismissed because they were false/baseless.

Someone apparently sent a second message using Hecht’s name and email address today, and Pierce Bainbridge says it’s alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other authorities over what it dubs “attempted fraud on the Copyright Office.” The Copyright Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week, The Verge and other outlets reported that the Copyright Office had refused to register Ribeiro’s “Carlton dance,” potentially weakening Ribeiro’s legal case. Hecht told The New York Times that he was still pushing the office to reconsider that claim, as well as a claim by 2 Milly, which was also rejected. The Times noted that he’d been able to register a dance from another of his clients, Russell “Backpack Kid” Horning. The unknown sender may have been reacting to this recent coverage.

Pierce Bainbridge calls the sender part of an “uninformed minority” attempting to subvert the claims. “Our lawsuits are the opposite of ‘wreckless and baseless’ as suggested by the hacker,” said Hecht in a statement. We don’t know if there was any hacking involved; the sender might have just entered Hecht’s email address in a contact form. The email isn’t exactly a masterful impersonation job either — in the unlikely event that a lawyer referred to his own legal filings as “reckless” in a letter to a government agency, he’d probably at least get the spelling right.

But it’s not surprising that a firm filing lawsuits around Fortnite — and other games that use emotes — would draw the ire of either hyper-protective players or trolls looking for a controversy to exploit. (It’s also not surprising that the firm would use that ire to promote its clients’ cases, as Pierce Bainbridge has done here.) In its statement, the firm attempted to “reassure fans” that it meant no harm to Epic’s game. “Our clients are not looking to shut down Fortnite. There is no risk of that,” said Hecht. “Rather, our clients are looking for fair and reasonable compensation, and recognition, for their dances.”

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