Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Latest Village People Song Spat Dismissed

SAN DIEGO (CN) - A federal judge this week dismissed with leave to amend copyright claims to 24 songs brought by an original member of camp disco group Village People.

U.S. District Chief Judge Barry Moskowitz sided with Scorpio Music, Can't Stop Productions and Henri Belolo on Tuesday and dismissed a complaint filed by singer Victor Willis.

In a prior lawsuit, Scorpio Music sued Willis over the percentage of copyright interests to 24 compositions Willis was entitled to recover when his grants of copyright were terminated.

Willis then filed a counterclaim saying Belolo - the man behind the group's iconic look - did not contribute lyrics or music and that Willis was entitled 50 percent of the copyright interests of the works, along with group co-founder Jacque Morali.

Following a February 2015 jury trial, the court ruled that Belolo is not a joint author of 13 of the 24 disputed works - including the famous party hit "Y.M.C.A." - and awarded Willis 50 percent of the copyrights to those 13 songs.

Willis filed the latest lawsuit last May , claiming all financial and business decisions of Can't Stop Productions were made by Belolo who utilized a form contract that identified songwriters as "adapters" even though they were creating original music and lyrics not based on any preexisting work.

Willis accused Belolo of unjust enrichment, conversion and misappropriation while claiming all the defendants engaged in fraud.

According to Moskowitz's Jan. 19 order, Willis claimed Belolo carried out a scheme that allowed him to falsely claim to be an author of the 13 compositions and obtaining royalties for the works. Belolo registered the 13 songs with the U.S. Copyright Office, identifying himself as co-author of the lyrics.

Willis said Belolo, a French citizen, then turned around and registered the songs with SACEM, the French rights organization that collects and distributes royalties for musical compositions. Belolo collected 50 percent of the royalties from the French organization.

He has also collected 25 percent of royalties on 13 songs from BMI, the American performing arts organization that collects and distributes royalties in the United States, Willis claimed.

Moskowitz dismissed Willis' first four causes of actions because he said the claims could have been brought in prior action. The judge said the claims brought by Willis had already been litigated in his counterclaim to the prior action and "are based on the same transactional nucleus of facts."

Willis' previous counterclaim did not seek recovery for pre-termination royalties obtained by Belolo, but he should have brought that forward and didn't, Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz also dismissed Willis' claim that Belolo was vicariously liable for copyright infringement committed by a performance group called Sixuvus. Can't Stop Productions granted a license for performances of the songs to Sixuvus, which performed hits from Willis' group and toured under the name Village People.

But A co-owner of a copyright cannot be held liable to another co-owner for infringement, Moskowitz ruled, taking Can't Stop Productions and Belolo off the hook for that claim.

However, Moskowitz gave Willis the chance to file an amended complaint, which he must do within 30 days.

Wildly popular in the late 1970s, Village People brought gay camp to mainstream America and charted two top-10 hits - "Y.M.C.A." and "In the Navy." The group has sold over 100 million albums worldwide.

Follow @@BiancaDBruno
Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.