Village People Lead Singer Wins Copyright Victory

Victor Willis, lead singer of the Village People, that camp disco-era singing group, has won an important victory in a California court. Willis wrote YMCA and other hit tunes performed by the group, the copyright to all of which wound up in music companies, as is so often the case for musicians starting out. However, US copyright law was revised in 1978 to include “termination rights,” a provision enabling creators to resume ownership of the copyright after 35 years. Despite various arguments by the music companies, the court accorded Willis the rights to the songs at issue.

According to the story in the New York Times, the issue is muddied by a couple of factors. For one thing, the Village People, like many other bands, was a creation of a music company and might be considered employees, in effect; in which case, the copyright to any of their creations made in the course of employment would belong to the employer. This argument was initially put forward by the defendants but then withdrawn, so it hasn’t been ruled on. As well, it may be the case that Willis was not the sole writer of the songs and, consequently, the monetary value of his interest is as yet unclear.

I’ve not yet been able to put my hands on the judgment and would be grateful for a link when one surfaces.

I note that Willis’s manager and wife (yes, he’s straight) earlier filed for cancellation [PDF] of various Village People trade marks.

Those who for some reason cannot summon up the glory that was the Village People can see what the fuss is about on this YouTube video. Feel free to dance along.

[ UPDATE (8pm): I’ve just received a copy of the court’s order in this matter, Scorpio Music SA v. Willis [PDF], thanks to Lee Ryan, Research Librarian at the Dorraine Zief Law Library, University of San Francisco School of Law. ]

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