Amid celebrating their 40th anniversary with a world tour, disco legends The Village People are now facing a court battle entangling several former creative partners that challenges the group’s very name.
The lawsuit comes at the hands of Can’t Stop Production, the U.S. arm of Scorpio Music — a French label founded by Henri Belolo, who is credited with discovering The Village People back in the ’70s. Can’t Stop alleges that the group’s current members have no legal right to use the name Village People, directing their lawsuit at Sixuvus Ltd., a management company that six of the group’s former members created upon reviving the group in 1987.
Those members under Sixuvus are co-founder Felipe Rose, Alexander Briley, Randy Jones, Glenn Hughes, David Hodo and Ray Simpson, who replaced Victor Willis as lead singer in 1979. And in a press release disseminated on Thursday (Oct. 5), the Village People allege that Can’t Stop has filed the lawsuit at the request of Willis himself.
“As the one and only Native American in the Village People, I was discovered in a Greenwich Village night club by Jacques Morali and I have seen the highs and lows of this group and disco music,” says co-founder Rose in the release. “We as a group have survived that and more.”
Sixuvus argues that because the current Village People members have been performing under the name for three decades, Can’t Stop has already lost any trademark rights it may have had to the name.
The company also claims that Can’t Stop’s lawsuit violates a settlement agreement dating back to 2009, which restrained Willis and his associates from disrupting any live performance or public appearance of Sixuvus performing as Village People. Ironically, Sixuvus claims that Can’t Stop was listed as a cross-defendant in that same settlement, on the same side of Sixuvus, and participated in the settlement conference.
It’s not the first time the Village People have found themselves embroiled in a court battle. Back in 2015, Willis won the right to reclaim 50 percent of the copyright to several of the group’s most famous songs, including “Y.M.C.A.,” after a trial lasting nearly a month.
“We are all saddened by the recent turn of events by Can’t Stop Productions/Scorpio Music — Henri Belolo/Jonathon Belolo and the Willis camp,” explains Briley in the release. “Their legal assault on us is a clear attempt to end our careers of 37+ years, in the middle of tour dates, disappointing many of our loyal fans around the world.”
Adds Simpson: “Our fans have responded over social media and in the court of public opinion. They recognize that ‘WE’ are the true Village People the world has come to know and love. It is our pleasure and honor to perform for our audiences around the world, and look forward to continuing with our careers. In the meantime, let the court decide our legacy and our rightful place in music, doing what we love to do.”
Jonathan Belolo, who runs Scorpio Music along with brother Anthony, declined Billboard‘s request for comment.