Village People Singer Wins Right to Claim Songs' Copyright

The case could have major implications for other songwriters

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The original singer for the '70s disco band the Village People won a court victory Monday when a judge ruled that he can claim partial copyright ownership for his band's hits like "Y.M.C.A."

    A judge in Los Angeles says the original lead singer of the Village People can reclaim at least partial ownership of the copyrights to more than two dozen of the group's songs, including "Y.M.C.A.," ''Macho Man" and "In the Navy."

    U.S. District Judge Barry T. Moskowitz on Monday nixed a lawsuit by two music publishers who argued Victor Willis had no right to regain ownership of 33 songs he co-wrote for the group under contract.

    It's the first test of a decades-old copyright provision and could mean millions in additional royalties for Willis — as well as other songwriters like Bob Dylan and Tom Petty who have claims pending over songs they co-wrote.

    The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Willis' was the first case to get a ruling under the copyright law at issue. That law took effect in 1978 and gives music copyright holders the right, after 35 years, to reacquire and administer their works and licensing rights themselves, the paper reported.

    The publishing companies that sued Willis maintained Willis, as a co-writer, could only seek to reclaim his copyrights if he acted in unison with other co-writers — but the court rejected that notion in its Monday ruling.

    The ruling could have broad effects on the music industry, according to the Union-Tribune, and Willis told the paper it could behoove all songwriters.

     

    But Stewart Levy, an attorney for the music publishers that sued Willis, downplayed the significance of the ruling, saying it doesn't lay out how much Willis will get and the case is far from over.