The Village People are back in the spotlight, but not in costume this time. A trial has recently begun to determine the rightful songwriter behind twenty-four of the Village People’s biggest hits, including “YMCA” and “Macho Man.” In May 2012, Victor Willis, the original Village People singer-songwriter (or for those of your familiar with the band, the policeman character), had a California federal judge rule in his favor by upholding his ability to terminate his share of the group songs. This gave him the right to expanded royalties.

Willis contends that he co-authored the songs with Jacques Morali. If the court finds this to be true, Willis would be entitled to a 50 percent share of the royalty payments. However, Scorpio Music and Can’t Stop Productions, the publishers, have shown copyright registrations indicating a third author, Henri Belolo. They believe that the songs were originally in French and then later adapted by Willis. Therefore, the music publishers believe Willis is only entitled to a 33 percent share. If the publishers win this case, Willis is estimated to lose $30 million from lost royalties. However, Willis believes that Belolo did not contribute significantly to the songs in question and, therefore, would not be entitled to a third of the royalties.

This trial begins at a time when music copyright disputes seem to be at an all time high. For instance, Marvin Gaye insists that Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” is a rip-off of his song “Got to Give It Up” and Tom Petty was recently awarded royalties for Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” for its striking resemblance to his song “I Won’t Back Down.” This trial is pushed even further into the national spotlight due to its celebrity witnesses. Scheduled to testify on behalf of Willis is his ex-wife Phylicia Rashad, famous for her role as Clair Huxtable on the Cosby Show. For the publishers, Felipe Rose (the Native American in the band) is planning to testify that he saw Belolo and Morali working together to create “YMCA” and other popular songs.

As the trial begins, the first matter that must be addressed by the judge is whose burden it is to prove Belolo did or did not contribute to the creation of the songs. Because the publishers have the copyright registration certificates, they believe that Willis carries the burden of disproving the writer credits contained on the certifications. However, Willis believes that these certificates cannot be presumed to be truthful if there is fraud involved. Once this issue is solved, the trial will be able to move forward.

Victoria Roessler

One Response to Who Rightfully Owns the Village People’s YMCA?

  1. Chastity Bobo says:

    It’s so interesting that some of the evidence is simply testimony that Rose saw them working together. If that type of evidence is effective, it seems these types of lawsuits would be susceptible to fraud. Given that inspiration may strike at any time, I understand it may be challenging to take legal steps to acknowledge everyone involved at the time, but I think there might should be a statute of limitations after which writing credit can’t be disputed.