Man, In The Navy - you might never admit it, but you've danced
to at least one of these, maybe at a sporting event or a wedding or (sadly)
your prom. Thankfully, you're now a practicing
attorney, and all that Village People stuff is behind you.
Or is it?
Strange days when copyrights and the Village
People collide, but sometimes, the planets align and odd things happen. In
April, Victor Willis, the original lead singer of the Village People, filed a federal
lawsuit in New York, seeking to recover "understated" royalties from Can't Stop
Productions (complaint). That alone wouldn't be of much interest. It's Can't
Stop's subsequent if not retaliatory lawsuit that raises an eye.
On July 14th, in California's
Southern District, Can't Stop (along with Scorpio
Music) filed a declaratory judgment action against Willis (complaint). Specifically, Can't Stop is seeking a
declaration that Willis' attempt to exercise recapture rights under 17 USC §
203(a) is void and of no force.
Last January, Willis served upon Can't Stop a
§ 203 Notice of Termination of copyright grants. As mentioned in an earlier post, §
203 provides for the termination of transfers
and licenses granted by an author. Specifically, § 203 states that under
In the case of
any work other than a work made for hire, the exclusive or nonexclusive
grant of a transfer or license of copyright or of any right under a copyright,
executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978, otherwise than by will, is
subject to termination ....
The conditions for termination include: termination
by an authorized author/person(s), a 35-year period between the grant's date of
execution and the termination, and advance notice served not less than two or
more than ten years before the termination date. Also, termination can be
effected notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, including an agreement
to make a will or to make any future grant.
Some major record companies have offered an argument
against § 203's license/transfer termination.
They're pointing to § 203's language, "other than a work made for hire,"
and arguing that sound recordings belong to them in perpetuity.
According to Can't Stop's complaint, Willis
entered into a series of "Adaptation Agreements" with Can't Stop.
These Agreements allegedly established Willis as a "writer for hire."
Pursuant to the terms of the
Agreements Can't Stop, acting on behalf of Scorpio Music, hired defendant to
translate the lyrics of and/or create new lyrics for certain musical
compositions which were owned and published in France by Scorpio Music.
Can't Stop instructed
defendant Willis concerning what English lyrics it desired him to provide, and supervised
defendant Willis' work in this regard by, among other things, providing him
with, and paying for, the facilities in which he rendered his services.
Can't Stop, as part of its
regular business of representing Scorpio Music in the United States, supervised
and controlled the manner and means by which defendant Willis worked, including
its location and duration, as well as the substance and meaning of the lyrics
to be provided.
Based on the facts, Can't Stop offers the following arguments against Willis'
assertion of his § 203 termination rights:
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