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Victor Willis wins a 50% stake in YMCA

By | Published on Friday 6 March 2015

Victor Willis

Village People lyricist and one-time policeman-dresser-upper Victor Willis has prevailed in the second element of his long-running legal battle over the copyright in the Village People songs he co-wrote.

As previously reported, Willis first went legal over his Village People copyrights back in 2011. There were two elements to his dispute. First, whether or not Willis could use the so called ‘termination right’, added to US copyright law in the 1970s but only just kicking in now, to reclaim control of copyrights he had previously assigned to the company behind the Village People franchise. And second, what slice of songs like ‘YMCA’ did Willis actually own?

Having won the first part of the dispute, the latter part rumbled on until this week. Can’t Stop Productions, which had previously tried to stop Willis using his termination right, also claimed that the songwriter had only a 33% stake in the songs he co-wrote, because three people had been involved in their creation: Willis, Village People mastermind Jacques Morali and his business partner, French record producer Henri Belolo.

But Willis argued that Belolo hadn’t actually had any role in creating the songs, even though he had been credited on the relevant copyright registration certificates. Can’t Stop Productions insisted that Belolo had originally written French lyrics for the songs which Willis then adapted, but Willis denied that was so.

And after a court hearing on the issue in the US, a jury has now decided that Willis is right, ruling that Bololo should be removed as co-writer on thirteen songs giving Willis a 50% stake in those compositions as sole lyricist. And, according to the songwriter’s lawyer, it’s a decision that will be worth millions to his client.

For his part, Willis told reporters: “I’m excited that the world will now know that ‘YMCA’ is all-American and not French”.