Amidst the brouhaha surrounding the Gaye copyright infringement trial these past two weeks, another important case was decided that also impacts songwriters, this time with respect to termination rights. A federal jury in California found on March 5, 2015 that Village People singer-songwriter Victor Willis could reclaim fifty percent of the copyright in several of the group’s songs, including their biggest hit “Y.M.C.A.”
The case dates back to 2011, and the complaint can be read here. In 2012, Willis won a critical battle in the case when Judge Barry Moskowitz ruled that Willis did not need his co-authors to effectuate a termination notice. The publishers argued that the songs subject to Willis’ termination notice were created by several authors, not just Willis, and that pursuant to the Copyright Act, a majority of those co-authors were necessary in order to effectuate termination. Judge Moskowitz disagreed and rejected the argument, allowing Willis to proceed in the case. That ruling is available here.
While the impact of the jury’s verdict for future termination issues remains to be seen, it is important for songwriters who have co-authored their works to take notice. No pun intended.