Victor Willis, the original lead singer of The Village People, has won a copyright case over the band’s disco hits “YMCA,” “In the Navy,” and “Go West.”
Willis’ victory is big news for the music industry. Several artists from the 1970s have opened similar copyright cases to regain the rights to their work.
Billboard reports that a law was put in place in January, 1978, stating that artists could terminate copyright transfer agreements after 35-years and reclaim the rights to their work. Artists like Tom Waits, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan have all put in termination notices in order to reclaim their early work.
Scorpio Music SA, which has owned the rights to several Village People songs for the last 35-years, filed a lawsuit in order to prevent Willis from reclaiming the copyright. U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz dismissed a lawsuit but said that Scorpio Music SA could refile its claim in order to determine what percentage of the rights will go to Willis.
The judge also ruled that the members of the YMCA who didn’t file a termination notice would not regain any rights that they gave up 35-years-ag0.
“Willis’s termination affects only the copyright interests that he previously transferred, his undivided interest in the joint work. The copyright interests transferred by other co-authors will not be affected by Willis’s termination.”
Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America, said that the the “YMCA” singer’s case was vitally important to the music industry. Carnes said:
“This is a vitally important decision under the so-called ‘new’ 35 year termination provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act. A decision that so emphatically endorses congressional intent to protect creators will hopefully smooth the way for all songwriters seeking to recapture their copyrights.”