*Village People singer Victor Willis won a huge legal victory in a case that has been closely followed in the music industry.
Last year, Willis terminated rights to his share of 33 of the group’s songs, including the monster hit “Y.M.C.A.” Scorpio Music and Can’t Stop Productions, the two companies that administer publishing rights to the group’s songs, reacted by going to court for a judgment that Willis couldn’t regain control over his work.
On Monday, California judge Barry Ted Moskowitz rejected the publishers’ claims, granting Willis’ motion to dismiss, reports Billboard.com.
The dispute in legislation enacted 35 years ago, when Congress lengthened the copyright term but decided that artists who had created works at the early stage of their careers but handed their rights over without much bargaining power should be the beneficiaries of the latter portions of the newly extended term.
When the Copyright Act amendments went into effect in 1978, it meant that songwriters could terminate copyright grants to publishers and record labels 35 years later. If they were to do so, however, they need to send their termination notices not fewer than two or more than 10 years from the intended termination date. The result is that 2013 is the first year in which musicians can effectuate a termination notice, and a number of them who created works in the late 1970s are now under the clock to do so or forfeit the right for the foreseeable future.
According to the court papers, Willis got royalty percentages that ranged from 12 percent to 20 percent on his work, but on a song like “Y.M.C.A.,” he’s listed on the copyright notice as one of three authors. That would mean that he would be able to grab back a 33 percent share of the song. And perhaps more too, since Willis is contending that that one of the three authors was not actually a joint author. “If Willis is correct,” says the judge, “Willis would have a one-half undivided interest in ‘Y.M.C.A.’ instead of a 1/3 undivided interest.”
In other words, the termination could represent a much bigger jump in Willis’ revenue participation from the hit song.
“To say this decision will send shock waves through the record industry [as] artists [are] seeking to take back their copyrights is an understatement,” says Willis’ publicist, Linda Smythe.