More likely than not you have heard the “YMCA” at every school dance or wedding you have ever attended. As great or terrible as that might be depending on the love or hate you may feel for the tune, the likelihood of hearing this or some other popular Village People songs might dwindle in the coming years due to former lead singer, Victor Willis’, recent court victory and obtainment of the copyright to some of the bands hit songs.
Willis had spent over six years working to recover his rights to “YMCA” and a bunch of other Village People hits and 2013 was the year he was able to make it happen. Many popular artists who wrote or recorded songs in 1978 and signed away their rights at the time now have the power to try and recover ownership under “termination rights,” a copyright provision that was part of legislation that became effective on January 1, 1978. Termination rights applies to the music publishing business and other literary branches. In short, it provides protection to a song writer as the success of a song cannot be determined when it is first written. It gives the writer a second chance to reclaim ownership should the song become popular, but will only apply after a long period of time and the law’s requirements must be followed exactly. Of course there are many “if this than that” rules under the Copyright Act applying to termination rights depending on whether the song was written before or after 1978.
For songs written after the termination rights clause went into effect, the writers must wait 35 years to reclaim their rights, hence the success Willis has finally realized. His is not the only case being mediated at the moment. Large companies across the country are doing their best to stop the wave of copyright ownership reclamation. These companies might find that they are facing an uphill battle, as the right to termination is inalienable, therefore it cannot be signed away by the writer at any time. The companies do have the right to appeal the decision to award the copyright ownership to the original writer and Victor Willis still has this battle to fight.
While Willis’ claim to his copyright ownership has been the most widely reported, there is no doubt that other popular artists are fighting to reclaim what they had previously signed away. So when you hear the YMCA at your next family or social event, appreciate the song while you can, who knows what avenues Willis will attempt to control once he his appeals have run their course and he completely reclaims his ownership!