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It Takes a Village

By Wendy Marsh

Victor Willis, the original lead singer of the Village People, has filed paperwork to regain control of his ownership share of songs by the band, including the hits "Y.M.C.A.", "In the Navy", and "Macho Man" by the year 2013.  A little-known provision of the 1978 Copyright Act could provide such a basis for Mr. Willis, otherwise known as the Village People "Cop". 

Section 203 of the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. Section 203) allows the creator of a copyrighted work, who, during his/her lifetime, has transferred all or some of the rights to the work on or after January 1, 1978, to terminate the transfer and regain the rights after a certain period of time, which is generally at least 35 years from the date of grant or from publication.  The earliest Section 203 terminations of transfers will take effect in 2013.  Section 203 of the Act was enacted to give authors the opportunity to regain rights they may have signed away earlier without fully understanding their rights and/or while they had little bargaining power. 

Section 203, however, has some important exceptions, including the fact that it does not apply to works made for hire.  This exception could potentially "arrest" Mr. Willis' claim as the two companies that administer publishing rights in the Village People's songs, Scorpio Music and Can't Stop Productions, are contesting his claim on the basis that it was a work for hire.  More particularly, the companies have asserted that Mr. Willis was hired to join the Village People, a concept band created by the music label.  If this is found to be the case then, as an employee, Mr. Willis' contributions to the Village People songs would likely be considered a work for hire and therefore not covered by the provisions of Section 203 of the Copyright Act. 

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