Victor Willis, the Village People lyricist and performer of such songs as “Y.M.C.A.” and “In the Navy,” says he’s reclaimed the rights to 33 songs he wrote.
Under a copyright law from 1978, he told the New York Times he’s exercised his “termination rights,” which allow creators to establish control over works they had signed away after a 35-year period, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2013.
Willis is reportedly the first artist to make such a legal triumph public. In 2011, artists including Bob Dylan and Tom Petty had reportedly filed in advance to reclaim ownership of portions of their catalog.
In May 2012, a judge granted Willis’ motion to dismiss publishers’ claims against his proceedings, allowing the termination to go forward. A lawyer for the companies behind the Village People’s catalog, Stewart L. Levy, told the Times “an appeal of the court’s decision permitting such reversion has yet to be taken” and Willis’ claim on the songs was “far from certain.”
However, Willis’ lawyers were more confident: “The termination is going to occur,” Jonathan Ross told the Times, stating that only the division of rights — between Willis, the late Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, a co-writer on “YMCA” and other tracks — remained to be settled in court.
Beyond its potential precedent in future copyright cases, Willis’ apparent victory has left the future of his music, and the still-active Village People, in question.
“I’ve had lots of offers, from record and publishing companies, a lot of stuff, but I haven’t made up my mind how it’s going to be handled,” Willis told the paper, adding that he might clamp down on the group currently touring with his material under the Village People name. “I learned over the years that there are some awesome powers associated with copyright ownership. You can stop somebody from performing your music if you want to, and I might object to some usages.”