A California district judge issued an important copyright decision yesterday, holding that Defendant Victor Willis, the original lead singer of the Village People, is entitled to terminate his post-1977 grants to two publishers, Can’t Stop the Music and Scorpio Productions, of his copyright interests in 33 musical compositions , including the monster hits, “YMCA,” “In the Navy,” and “Go West.”
The publishers filed the declaratory judgment action maintaining that Willis was not entitled to terminate the copyrights because he was one of several authors of these joint works and the other authors did not join in the terminations. In interpreting the copyright statute, the court concluded that the plain reading of the statute did not support the plaintiff’s position. Willis alone made his particular grant of his particular copyright interests and he alone was able to terminate that grant. Consequently, the Court granted Willis’ Motion to Dismiss the action, which the publishers had filed in order to invalidate the copyright terminations.
This case is important because it is one of the first of an expected wave of cases testing writer’s termination rights. These rights came about as a result of a change in the Copyright Act during the 1970’s, which gave musicians the ability to reclaim the rights to their songs starting in 2013, 35 years after the changes took effect in 1978. This case doesn’t answer all the important questions regarding these issues, i.e., how will “works made for hire” be treated (because the plaintiff’s dropped that issue), but it is a big win for writers and musicians. Victor Willis will likely be able to stay somewhere nicer than the YMCA now.