Victor Willis, the ‘cop’ and a naval officer in the ‘70s disco group The Village People has been awarded more than a half-million dollars in attorney’s fees by a federal court. U.S. District Court Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz granted Willis $527,236 to cover his attorney’s fees and $3,034 in costs incurred during copyright battles to reclaim ownership of his share of the songwriting and the associated revenues in over 33 of the songs Willis co-wrote, including Village People’s huge hit “YMCA” as well as “In The Navy”, “Go West” and “Macho Man”.
The right to reclaim arose when the Copyright Act amendments went into effect in 1978 and it meant that songwriters could terminate copyright grants to publishers and record labels 35 years later.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported that the 64 year old songwriter said the award sent a loud message to record producers “attempting to stop artists like myself” from asserting their rights to let them know “there are going to be repercussions” and commenting to the two music publishing companies and music producer Henri Belolo who fought his claims he said “I had to put out a lot of money to fight him,” says Willis, who was reached at home. “He made motion, after motion, after motion. Most artists don’t have the money to keep going.”
A year after his initial claim, Willis sued to increase his copyright share from one-third to 50 percent on 24 of those songs. The jury found enough evidence to grant his request on 13 titles, including “YMCA,” ruling that Belolo was not a joint author of the lyrics as he had contended. The melodies were written by Jacques Morali.
Judge Moskowitz noted that the costs award was justified to “encourage authors like Willis to assert their rights to regain their copyright interests and to deter production companies… from attempting to interfere with those rights.”
It was, Willis noted, a victory for artists throughout the United States.