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Village People Singer Can Seek 50% of ‘Y.M.C.A.,’ Other Hits

Court will allow frontman to make his case on ownership of disco-era band's songs

Victor Willis, original lead singer of the Village People, drew headlines last year when he reclaimed ownership in 33 of the disco-era group’s hits and other songs. His legal victory over publisher Scorpio Music and Can’t Stop Prods. was a reminder that the clock was ticking on a provision of the Copyright Act that allows authors to recapture the copyrights to their works under certain conditions, with the first titles from 1978 reverting back to authors this year.

Now Willis is seeking a determination that he is the 50% owner in “Y.M.C.A.” and other hits, while Scorpio and Can’t Stop Prods. contend that his ownership interest is no greater than 33.3% because of the presence of other co-authors. Willis challenges their contention that 24 compositions were adapted from French songs and, as such, Henri Belolo is a co-author. With Jacques Morali composing the music, that splits the percentages into thirds.

Willis is seeking a declaratory judgment that he is the half-owner of the works, and earlier this week a federal judge rejected an effort by the publishers and Belolo to throw out the case. But U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz did not declare that Willis was half owner, just that there were still “issues of fact” that needed to be resolved as to whether his claim was timely and not barred by a three-year statute of limitations.

In a statement, Willis said, “I will now have an opportunity to have all the facts come out which will establish the true American authorship of all my songs, and I can assure you there was no ‘Y.M.C.A.’ in France when I wrote the lyrics in 1978.”

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