This is the case that everyone was watching – and exactly the result what publishers wanted to avoid.
Now, the question is what this means for an already stressed-out publishing industry, especially as time-worn classics shift out of their hands.
Just this morning, US District Court judge Barry Ted Moskowitz handed the publishing rights for ‘Y.M.C.A.,’ ‘In the Navy’ and other leather-clad classics back to Victor Willis, an original member of the Village People. The reversion successfully exercises age-old amendments to the US Copyright Act, which effectively orders the reversion of songs to original authors after 35 years.
The losers in this case are Scorpio Music and Can’t Stop Productions, both of whom exercised control and administration over the classic anthems. Part of their defense was that Willis was not the sole author, a complex counter-argument that was dismissed by an unsympathetic judge.
But this goes far beyond those companies, and threatens to drastically diminish revenues for a large number of publishers. The reason is that songs like ‘Y.M.C.A.’ are catalog gems and frequently predictable annuities – just like precious metals and other properties. And, some songs – like ‘Y.M.C.A.’ – are spectacularly unique in their ability to embrace multiple generations (in this case because of vintage campiness, in other cases because of sheer timelessness.)
The future is now: 2013 has become a reckoning year for a raft of classics, including those by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Tom Petty. In fact, all three of those artists have already submitted proper paperwork to gain reversion of pre-1978 works, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Unfortunately, there seem to be complicated procedures and narrow filing windows involved. But huge revenue streams have undoubtedly motivated litigating artists – including those that are scraping by so many decades later.