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Former Village People member Victor Willis goes from In The Navy to In the Black

VillagePeopleLast year, Blue Pencil reported that former Village People member Victor Willis (he is the one who dressed like a policeman) was taking his record company to court in order to claim back his copyrights.

Recent reports suggest that he has been successful and that his exercise of this termination rights means that the copyrights of his smash hit songs such as In the Navy and YMCA will revert to him, together with his entitlement to royalties. Mr Willis when interviewed on BBC’s Radio 4 Broadcasting House programme said that he reckoned he was entitled to $30million dollars.

In our previous article we reported that the record company asserted that Mr Willis was an employee of them and as such any intellectual property rights vested with the record company.

Mr Willis argued that at the time he was young and had no lawyer, and he was not aware as to the meaning of what he was signing.

He told the New York Times that he only became aware of the termination rights when advised by his Welsh born lawyer wife, Karen. He said “ I’m hoping that other artists will get a good lawyer and get back the works that a lot of us gave away when we were younger, before we knew what was going on.”

It seems other litigation is on the horizon for Mr Willis as there is a dispute about co-writing credits which would influence the split of the royalties. In addition, Mr Willis whilst undecided, is contemplating stopping the current line of Village People from performing his songs in the USA. Maybe the YMCA should intervene as the lyrics do say:- “There's a place there called the y.m.c.a. They can start you back on your way.”

The Victor Willis case is amongst many US cases where artists are claiming back their copyright under the 1976 US Copyright Act. The law came into effect on the 1st January 1978 and under its terms once 35 years have elapsed the author of a song can claim back ownership of the copyright from the record company. Those pursuing such claims include Bruce Springsteen and Lipps Inc for their song Funky Town.

The record companies are mounting various defences given the potential and substantial revenue loss.


Julian Wilkins

Julian Wilkins is Editorial Director for Blue Pencil Media Limited. Julian has a LLB (Hons) in law and M.Phil in law as well as a Diploma in European law and was admitted as a solicitor in 1988; he practices in the area of media, entertainment, and intellectual property law as a consultant for Devereaux Solicitors in London. Julian is also a Notary Public and CEDR accredited commercial mediator. Julian has written for academic publications and contributed to an Exhibition Catalogue about 1960s photographer Philip Townsend. Julian is a member of the International Association of Entertainment Lawyers and also the British Institute of International and Comparative law. Julian is a finalist in The Media Lunch Club “Short Circuit” script competition to be held in November 2011. Julian’s comments “The rapidly changing world economy and technology is presenting incredible opportunities for the Creative Industries and Blue Pencil hopes to reflect and contribute to these changes.”

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