Ownership of Village People songs may return to one of the original Village People

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Even when a songwriter has completely finished writing a song it can be very difficult to tell whether or not it will be a commercial success. But it is long before the true value of a song is known that the author of the work has likely transferred the rights, it may have occurred before the writer ever even began.

In the 1970s copyright law was amended to provide creators of works of art “termination rights” after 35 years. Songs from the late 1975 are now passing the 35 year mark and subject to the exercise of termination rights that would allow the creators to reclaim them.

Recently, a court ruled in favor of Victor Willis, lead singer for the Village People, in his attempt to reclaim the rights to YMCA and other hit songs he wrote and performed.

The Judge said that based on the termination rights in the copyright laws, songwriters and recording artists may reclaim rights that they signed away 35 years ago. This is possible, according to the judge, even when the contract explicitly contradicted it. This ruling could have a very large impact on the music industry. Particularly with the large number of songs from the late 1970s and early 1980s that are still popular and often used in movies and commercials.

While the ruling opens the way for Willis to reclaim his rights it did not determine the extent of those rights, but even partial ownership of the catalogue of songs he helped create over three decades ago could still be very significant. As more songs reach their 35th birthdays, it will be interesting to see how future lawsuits like this one play out.

Source: New York Times, “Village People Singer Wins a Legal Battle in Fight to Reclaim Song Rights,” By Larry Rohter May 8, 2012