Village People's Victor Willis in YMCA copyright battle

Victor Willis Singer Victor Willis left the Village People in 1980

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A member of the 1970s disco group Village People who lives in south-east Wales is launching a legal fight for the rights to their classic hit YMCA.

Victor Willis, who owns a house in Newport with wife Karen, hopes to win the copyright to 33 songs in total.

The companies that control the band's hits, Can't Stop Productions and Scorpio Music, say Willis worked for them as a writer for hire.

But Karen Willis said her husband was confident he would win the copyright.

Village People formed in 1977 and have sold around 100m albums and singles. The band's hits also included Go West, In The Navy and Can't Stop The Music.

Its six members dressed as American male icons with Willis, 59, taking on the role of the band's policeman and lead singer. He later played the role of a naval officer.

Original songwriter

Start Quote

Victor is a great writer and the jewel among these songs is of course YMCA”

End Quote Karen Willis

Originally from San Francisco, the singer met Karen, a lawyer from Newport, and came to live with her in south Wales.

The couple are currently in California to fight the copyright case, said Mrs Willis, but plan to move back to Wales afterwards.

"My husband Victor is seeking to gain the rights back to about 33 songs," said Mrs Willis, who moved to Newport with her family as a teenager.

"They include those that he wrote as the original songwriter for the Village People and of course YMCA. He wrote many songs for Patrick Juvet, The Ritchie Family, and other bands.

"Victor is a great writer and the jewel among these songs is of course YMCA."

'Pretty confident'

VILLAGE PEOPLE FACTS

  • The band's original members dressed as an American Indian, a motorcycle rider, a policeman, a construction worker, a cowboy and a soldier
  • The Village People have a star on the Hollywood walk of fame
  • The band sold more than 100 million recordings
  • More than 40,000 fans performed the band's famous YMCA dance routine at the Sun Bowl in Texas on 31 December, 2008
  • Madonna and Joan Rivers are among the acts to have opened for the band
  • Source: www.officialvillagepeople.com

"In America there is a wonderful thing called the 1976 Copyright Act which allows artists to reclaim the rights to their songs 35 years after their release," she explained.

"YMCA was recorded in 1978 and in 2013 35 years will be up. We are looking forward to getting that copyright back and are pretty confident we will."

Stewart L. Levy, a US-based lawyer for the two publishing companies, recently told the New York Times that they had asked a court to declare Mr. Willis's filing "void and of no force."

"The Village People were a concept group, created by my clients, who picked the people and the costumes," said Mr Levy.

"We hired this guy. He was an employee, we gave them the material and a studio to record in and controlled what was recorded, where, what hours and what they did."

However, Mrs Willis disputed this.

The Village People Mr Willis left The Village People in 1980

"He wrote the songs outside the group, at home and in hotel rooms," she said. "They won't get anywhere with that."

In 2009 it was reported that Willis was to sue the existing version of the band for using his picture and voice in promotion.

The singer underwent surgery to remove nodules from his vocal cords in 2008.

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