(CN) – A federal judge sided with Victor Willis, ex-lead singer of the Village People, in throwing out a lawsuit brought by the French publisher of the groups’ hit songs “Y.M.C.A.,” “In the Navy,” and “Go West.”
The publisher sought to prevent Willis from reclaiming the rights he signed over to them in 1977.
Willis wrote songs for Scorpio Music and Can’t Stop Productions between 1977 and 1979. In January 2011, Willis moved to reclaim his copyright to 33 songs.
While the publishers claimed the songs were joint works and the grants could only be terminated by the majority of its authors, Willis claimed that because he was the only person who granted his copyright interests in the songs, he has the power to terminate the grants. In a ruling that referred to Scorpio as “commercially exploiting musical compositions,” Chief U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz agreed.
“Upon consideration of the language and purpose of 17 U.S.C. § 203 in conjunction with the law governing the rights of joint authors, the court concludes that a joint author who separately transfers his copyright interest may unilaterally terminate that grant,” Moskowitz wrote. “Under the plain meaning of the statute, if two or more joint authors join in a grant of their copyright interests, a majority of the authors is necessary to terminate the grant. If, however, a single joint author enters into a grant of his copyright interest, that author alone can terminate his grant.”
He added that it would run contrary to the Copyright Act of 1976 to require a majority of joint authors “to terminate the legally permissible separate grant by one joint author of his undivided copyright interest in the work.” Moskowitz said, “The purpose of the Act was to safeguard[ ] authors against unremunerative transfers and address the unequal bargaining position of authors, resulting in part from the impossibility of determining a work’s value until it has been exploited. Under plaintiffs’ interpretation, it would be more difficult to terminate an individual grant than it would be to make it in the first place.”
Moskowitz allowed the publishers to amend their complaint regarding the dispute over what percentage of the copyrights Willis granted and wants back.
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