Decision looms on frontman’s claim to return of Village People copyrights

May 2012

Artistes, music publishing

It seems that U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz will be deciding Victor Willis’s claim against his music publisher sooner rather than later, possibly by the end of this month.  The ex-lead singer of the Village People, is seeking to regain ownership of U.S. copyrights in the group’s hits, including “Y.M.C.A.,” “In the Navy” and “Go West” from music publisher, Scorpio Music SA. The claim is under 1976 US provisions that allow songwriters to regain control of their works after 35 years. The Songwriters Guild of America said the outcome was “critical to whether songwriters and other creators will be enabled on both a legal and a practical basis to pursue and enjoy their statutory rights, or whether publishers will be allowed to frustrate those rights through a protracted-litigation strategy” in court papers supporting Willis. Scorpio have said Willis can’t terminate the rights to the Village People songs because they are “joint works written by more than one person.” and that copyright law “unambiguously requires the agreement of the majority of authors” to invoke the right of termination. French producers Henri Belolo and Jacques Morali who created the Village People in 1977 are listed with Willis as the authors of most of the 33 songs for which he seeks to terminate his copyright grant. The Songwriters Guild called Scorpio Music’s reading of the law “tortured” and “simply nonsensical” in its court filing.

Judge Moskowitz will have to determine the issue of joint authorship as well as the right to termination.

Scorpio Music v. Willis, 11-01557, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego) and

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