A number publications have been noting that many of the world’s most famous musical artists, including the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, will be attempting to reclaim the rights of their songs from record companies, setting the stage for a huge wave of copyright battles. A provision in U.S. copyright law gives artists termination rights after 35 years if they apply two years in advance, meaning songs from 1978 are ready for such claims. The Times did a general feature story on the issue and then followed up with an article on the filing by Victor Willis (of the Village People) to regain ownership of the popular song “Y.M.C.A.” According to that story, the companies with publishing rights – Scorpio Music and Can’t Stop Productions – are contesting the claims on the grounds that Willis was a “writer for hire” and thus has no rights to the song. Willis is represented by Brian Caplan of Caplan & Ross, who called the dispute an important test case.
But Stewart Levy of Eisenberg Tanchum & Levy, who represents the companies, disagreed and said that the Willis claim has nothing to do with the types of claims filed by songwriters like Springsteen or Dylan. Unlike them, he said the Village People was a concept created by his clients and that the group members really were more like employees. Nevertheless, in the earlier feature story, the RIAA, seeing yet another blow to sagging revenues, made it clear that it will make working-for-hire argument in many of the cases.