You don’t have to have been born in the 1970s to be familiar with the disco hit “Y.M.C.A.” by the famously flamboyant music group the Village People. Now, the popular (and some would argue, annoying) song is now at the forefront of a legal battle that could test the boundaries of copyright law.
Village People lead singer Victor Willis, who wrote the lyrics to “Y.M.C.A.”, recently filed papers to obtain his share of ownership of the hit song as well as 32 other Village People compositions. Willis and other music artists who created albums in the ’70s are seeking ownership of their work through a provision that was incorporated into U.S. copyright law in the mid-’70s that allows artists to reclaim the rights to their work after 35 years.
However, two companies—Scorpio Music and Can’t Stop Productions—aren’t so willing to turn over the songs’ rights to Willis. The companies contend that they employed Willis as a writer for hire and, therefore, because he was an independent contractor, he shouldn’t have ownership of the songs. Additionally, the companies say they personally created the Village People as a concept group that they controlled, which is different from the other musicians and bands of the ’70s.