Bare-chested cop impersonator Victor Willis, aka the former lead singer of the Village People, is attempting to regain control of 32 songs he co-wrote, including their biggest hit, "Y.M.C.A.," whose catchy melody and acronymous choreography has made it a perennial favorite at everything from basketball games to Bar Mitzvahs.
According to copyright law, ownership of music rights goes back to the songwriters and recording artists after 35 years. But the current owners of the Village People catalog — French company Scorpio Music and its U.S. arm, Can't Stop Productions — deny Willis's claim. Yes, he wrote the lyrics to "Y.M.C.A.," they concede, but he was essentially their "writer for hire" at the time — just one of a roomful of costumed fetish monkeys, chained to typewriters and forced to churn out hit after hit for their coke-snorting, leisure-suit-wearing, disco overlords.
"This is totally different [...]" said Stewart L. Levy, of the New York firm Eisenberg Tanchum & Levy, who is representing the publishing companies. "The Village People were a concept group, created by my clients, who picked the people and the costumes. It was probably no different than the Monkees when they started. 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."