Village People Fight|Over Copyrights

SAN DIEGO (CN) – The Village People’s original lead singer and songwriter demands more than $1 million from a former bandmate and record label in a copyright claim in Federal Court.
     Victor Willis sued Scorpio Music, Can’t Stop Productions, and Henri Belolo on Wednesday, claiming they owe him for falsely claiming ownership of more than a dozen of the group’s hits, including “Y.M.C.A.” and “Sexy Man.”
     Willis claims that Belolo, a producer, former bandmate and chief officer of Scorpio falsely claimed ownership of lyrics to 13 Village People songs. Willis says he and Jacques Morali wrote the songs, but Belolo claimed 50 percent of the royalties.
     Belolo, a French citizen, registered the songs in France, falsely listing himself as author of “the original French versions,” and Willis as the translator, Willis says in the complaint.
     He claims that the French copyright organization SACEM has been sending Belolo half of the foreign royalties for the song. Belolo did the same thing with the U.S. copyright organization BMI, claiming 25 percent ownership since 1978 or 1979, according to the complaint.
     Willis claims that a federal judge ruled that Belolo had no ownership of the songs, but that says Belolo has spent three years performing Willis’ songs with a group named Sixuvus and touring under the name Village People.
     Willis says Can’t Stop granted Belolo a royalty-free license to perform the songs, though it had no right to do so.
     Willis, Belolo and Can’t Stop have a history of litigation.
     In January 2011, Willis says, he sent Scorpio and Can’t Stop Productions a notice of termination of their ownership rights.
     Can’t Stop Productions disputed it, claiming that Willis was only one of three songwriters who had an interest in the songs.
     Willis disagreed.
     Can’t Stop sought a declaration of the validity of the termination, or in the alternative a declaration limiting Willis’ rights to 12 to 20 percent ownership, the same percentage he held under the original copyrights.
     In May 2012, Chief U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz in Los Angeles dismissed the case, finding that Willis had the right to “unilaterally serve a notice of termination” of defendants’ rights to the songs because he was the sole grantor who executed the copyright agreements.
     The court also found that Willis should share ownership equally with the other songwriters, whether there were two others or just one.
     Scorpio and Can’t Stop filed an amended complaint and Willis filed a counterclaim.
     After a jury trial, the judge found that Belolo, chief officer of Scorpio, could not claim ownership in 13 Village People Songs, including “Broadway,” “Y.M.C.A.” and “Sexy Man.” Willis has 50 percent ownership of those 13 songs, the judge ruled, awarding Willis 33 percent ownership of 20 other Village People songs.
     Willis demands $5 million in punitive damages and at least $1 million for Belolo’s unauthorized performance of Village People songs.
     He is represented by John T. Jasnoch with Scott+Scott in San Diego, who was unavailable for comment.
     Scorpio Music did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

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