Village People Singer Wins “Termination Rights” Case over Song Rights
LOS ANGELES, CA – A federal judge last week ruled in favor of recording artist and songwriter Victor Willis, the former lead singer of 1970s disco band the Village People, dismissing a lawsuit brought by two music companies that sought to prevent him from exercising ownership rights over hit songs he wrote, including “YMCA, “In the Navy,” and “Go West.” Last year, Willis tried to invoke “termination rights,” a provision of copyright law that allows singers and songwriters to reacquire the ownership of their work themselves after 35 years.
The music publishers, Can’t Stop Productions and Scorpio Music, sought to prevent that, arguing that Willis had “no right, title or interest in the copyright” to 33 songs recorded by the Village People. On May 14, Los Angeles Federal District Court Chief Judge Barry Moskowitz ruled for Willis, rejecting the companies’ argument that he had created “works for hire” as a songwriter employed by the Village People’s management company. “The purpose of the act was to ‘safeguard authors against unremunerative transfers’ and address ‘the unequal bargaining position of authors, resulting in part from the impossibility of determining a work’s value until it has been exploited,’” wrote Moskowitz in his 10-page ruling. “Under [the music publishers’] interpretation, it would be more difficult to terminate an individual grant than it would be to make it in the first place.”
The “termination rights” clause was added during a revision of copyright law that took effect in 1978. It says that—beginning in 2013—recording artists and songwriters can regain ownership of work they had signed away early in their careers. In his decision, Judge Moskowitz wrote that there are circumstances in which the creators of musical works—both singers and songwriters—have the right to “recapture” their ownership of a musical composition after a lapse of 35 years, even if their original contract specifically prevents them from doing so.
More Twists in Alleged John Travolta Sexual Battery Cases
LOS ANGELES, CA – The sexual battery and harassment cases against actor John Travolta have moved with rapid speed from the sublime to the ridiculous, with one of the anonymous masseurs named in the suits being “fired” as a client by his attorney, and that lawyer in turn filing suit against another attorney he accuses of “stealing” another client who is involved in the cases.
Travolta, 58, is accused by at least six separate male masseurs of making inappropriate advances during massage sessions. One of them, a Texas man identified in court documents as “John Doe #1,” was dropped by Los Angeles attorney Okorie Okorocha after admitting that he had misidentified the date of his alleged Beverly Hills encounter with the “Saturday Night Fever” star (credit card records indicate that Travolta was in New York at the time).
John Doe #1 also claimed that Travolta admitted to having achieved early career successes as a result of “sexual favors” he had performed for Hollywood execs. A day later, a second accuser—identified as “John Doe #2”—came forward, stating that Travolta had made unwanted advances during a stay in Atlanta, in which the actor “had a full erection,” and tried “to force [John Doe #2] to touch his anus.”
On May 10, a former cruise ship employee, Fabian Zanzi, became the third accuser, alleging that in 2009, Travolta had offered him $12,000 for sex. Another man—a former masseur at the Eden Roc in Miami Beach—has also reported that the actor accosted him for sex during a 2000 massage in the actor’s hotel room. The man, who spoke with the New York Daily News and was identified only by his first name, “Jeff,” says that Travolta put “his hands where he wanted me to work and kind of [grinded] on the table,” adding that the actor “actually pulled my hand between his legs, up to his scrotum.” After “getting aggressive and [grabbing] my hand again,” Jeff alleges that Travolta left a mere $20 tip. The suits are seeking approximately $2 million in damages against the actor.
“Summer” of Love: Singer’s Passing Marks an Epoch’s Ending
NAPLES, FL – The passing of Donna Summer, 63, last week brought to a close a decades-long love affair between the singer and her gay fan base, one that began in 1975, when the 26-year-old singer (who was born LaDonna Adrian Gaines) broke onto the charts with “Love to Love You Baby,” a 17-minute song that would result in a profound transformation for both music and for LGBT Americans.
Summer’s relationship with her gay fans was a two-edged sword, one she would come to resent because of its “bad girl” implications. As she told Ebony magazine in 1977, “I’m not just sex, sex, sex. I would never want to be a one-dimensional person like that.” That perceived ambivalence was reciprocated in kind, after the performer allegedly blamed the AIDS epidemic on divine wrath aimed at the immoral lifestyle of her largest audience, allegations she denied in a 1989 interview with The Advocate. Summer was emphatic in her denial.
“I never said, ‘If you are gay, God hates you.’ Come on. Be real. I don’t understand that,” she told The Advocate. “Anybody who really knows me knows I wouldn’t say that.” Although there was a reconciliation of sorts, the damage had been done, and the singer enjoyed her final Top-10 hit, “This Time I Know It’s for Real,” that same year. Summer—who died on May 17 from cancer at her Naples home—was an accidental LGBT icon.
The performer never courted gay audiences, but her music reverberated in America’s libidinously adventurous, post-Sexual Revolution 1970s, and although it wasn’t created for the gay market, it was for that market segment that her sound hit closest to home, and for which she will be most missed.