Village People Licensing Dispute Jives Into Court

MANHATTAN (CN) – Trading leather chaps for Windsor knots, the corporate entity behind the Village People brought a trademark complaint against the disco group’s live touring lineup.

Filing suit in Manhattan on Aug. 25, Can’t Stop Productions says it was the one that came up with the idea in the late 1970s to cast a six-man ensemble dressed in construction helmets, cowboy boots and other now-iconic accessories.

Two of the group’s original members, Alexander Briley and Felipe Rose, formed Sixuvus Ltd. a decade later as an entity through which they and new Village People could perform live.

Can’t Stop says it originally took a 5 percent license fee on Sixuvus’ gross revenues, but “recently … made the business decision to terminate its relationship with Sixuvus for use of the Village People trademarks.”

After terminating Sixuvus’ license this past spring, according to the complaint, Can’t Stop shopped the license to a third party called Harlem West Entertainment.

Around this same time, the Village People’s original lead singer Victor Willis settled a long-running copyright dispute with Can’t Stop in California.

Not a party to the complaint, Harlem West Entertainment is the Los Angeles-based management for Willis. It is run by the singer’s wife, Karen Willis.

She said in a phone interview that Sixuvus used their control of the Village People’s social media accounts to disparage and besmirch her husband’s 2017 live appearances.

Can’t Stop says Briley, Rose and their four cohorts are ignoring the shakeup, continuing to “perform as Village People across the country and the world.”

Harlem West can’t even put up a new Facebook page for its Village People because Sixuvus won’t take down its account, according to the complaint.

Represented by Eisenberg Tanchum & Levy attorney Stewart Levy, Can’t Stop seeks injunctive and declaratory relief.

“The more time that goes by with the Sixuvus performing as the Village People without authorization, the more difficult it will be to convince the general public that Harlem West Entertainment is a legitimate licensee,” the complaint states.

Based in New York, Can’t Stop is the licensing entity that represents the two French producers, Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, who came up with the group’s concept and songs.

Belolo and Morali scouted for New York talent in mid-1970s with a straight-to-the-point advertisement in the Village Voice: “Macho types wanted: Must Dance and Have a Moustache.”

The duo hired Willis after seeing him on Broadway in “The Wiz.”

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.

Willis usually performed as a police officer or naval officer. Rose was “the Native American” and Alexander Briley was “the G.I.”

The other Sixuvus performers named in Can’t Stop’s lawsuit are “leatherman” Eric Anzalone, James Newman (“cowboy”) and Bill Whitefield (“construction worker”).

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