Village People Singer Claims Victory in Copyright Battle

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People have been doing the “YMCA” dance at weddings and silly dance parties here in Florida for so many years that it’s easy for some to forget that a person actually wrote the Village People’s 1978 hit song “YMCA” – and that it remains protected by copyright. Victor Willis didn’t forget.

Willis was the lead singer of the Village People in the 1970s, when he performed with the band while dressed in a police uniform. Willis helped write “YMCA,” “In the Navy,” “Macho Man” and other Village People hits, but assigned most of his rights to the songs to record and publishing companies. After a long legal struggle, he now claims he has recaptured the rights to more than 30 Village People songs, including “YMCA” and “In the Navy.”

At issue in the legal struggle was a provision of copyright law that allows creators to terminate their assignments of copyrights after 35 years. Under that provision, Willis became eligible to terminate his assignments of the songs this year. He has said he is entertaining other offers from record companies to take advantage of his new position. A lawyer for the other companies involved in the legal dispute said the companies still retain rights to the works. Meanwhile, a group still calling itself the Village People continues to perform, although Willis is not involved.

The entertainment industry is built on spectacle and fun, but behind the scenes it is full of technically difficult legal subjects such as intellectual property, licensing and contracts. People in Florida’s entertainment industry who are engaged in a dispute need legal help from professionals who understand their special requirements as well as the technicalities of copyright and other highly specialized areas of the law.

Source: New York Times, “A Copyright Victory, 35 Years Later,” Larry Rochter, Sept. 10, 2013

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