Village People songwriter, lead singer and ersatz police officer, Victor Willis, has prevailed in a lawsuit challenging his termination of assignment (and resulting recapture) of copyright to his many hit songs. To be honest, the decision is very straightforward and there really were not any difficult issues presented, particularly because the music publisher withdrew its claim that the songs were works made for hire (which would have rendered any attempt to terminate ineffective). The only argument advanced by the publisher was that Mr. Willis could not terminate his assignment because he was only one of several joint authors of the assigned songs.
This argument was frivolous, however, because Willis transferred his rights in a separate agreement, to which he was the only signatory. The statute is unusually clear on the point that the “majority rule” requirement of Section 203 only applies to situations where multiple joint authors execute the same grant of rights. This sort of sloppy thinking confuses that which is terminated (the grant of rights) with that which was transferred (the copyright interest). Copyrights are not terminated, transfers are terminated. In any event, the court had no trouble reading the plain language of the statute, and promptly upheld the efficacy of Mr. Willis’s termination at the early, motion to dismiss phase.
Here is a copy of the court’s decision: