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Willis (Village People) (Order)

Willis (Village People) (Order)

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Published by: Christopher S. Harrison on Sep 01, 2013
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07/25/2014

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURTSOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
SCORPIO MUSIC S.A., et al. ,Plaintiffs,Case No. 11cv1557 BTM(RBB)
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TODISMISS
v.VICTOR WILLIS,Defendant.Defendant Victor Willis (“Willis” or “Defendant”) has filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’Complaint. On March 20, 2012, the Court held oral argument on the motion. For thereasons discussed below, Defendant’s motion is
GRANTED
.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Defendant Victor Willis is the original lead singer of the Village People. This lawsuitconcerns Willis’s attempt to terminate his post-1977 grants to Can’t Stop Music of hiscopyright interests in 33 musical compositions (“Compositions”), including the hit songs,“YMCA,” “In the Navy,” and “Go West.”Plaintiff Scorpio Music S.A. (“Scorpio”) is a French corporation engaged in thebusiness of publishing and otherwise commercially exploiting musical compositions. (Compl.1.) Plaintiff Can’t Stop Productions, Inc., (“CSP”) is the exclusive sub-publisher andadministrator in the United States of musical compositions published and owned by Scorpio1
11cv1557 BTM(RBB)
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12345678910111213141516171819202122232425262728Music. (Compl. ¶ 2.) Can’t Stop Music (“CSM”) is a division of Plaintiff Can’t StopProductions, Inc.Plaintiffs allege that between 1977 and 1979, they hired Willis to translate the lyricsof and/or create new lyrics for certain musical compositions which were owned andpublished in France by Scorpio. Copyright registrations for the 33 Compositions at issuecredit Willis as being one of several writers. (Compl. 12.) By way of Adaptation Agreements, Willis transferred his copyright interests in the subject Compositions to CSM,and CSM thereupon assigned to Scorpio its rights in the lyrics. (Compl. ¶ 11.) The Adaptation Agreements provided that Willis would receive a set percentage (12%-20%,depending on the composition) of CSM’s gross receipts from exploitation of theCompositions.In January 2011, Willis served on Plaintiffs a “Notice of Termination of Post-1977Grants of Copyright on Certain Works of Victor Willis” with respect to his interests in the 33Compositions. (Ex. A to Complaint.)On July 14, 2011, Plaintiffs commenced this lawsuit. Plaintiffs challenge the validityof the termination and seek a declaratory judgment that Willis has no right, title, or interestin the copyrights to the Compositions, requiring Willis to withdraw the notice of termination,and enjoining Willis from making any claims to the copyrights in the Compositions. In theevent that Willis is found to have a right to terminate, Plaintiffs seek a declaration that(1) Willis’s reversion of rights be limited to “the same percentage ownership as he receivesas compensation relating to the Compositions and as set forth in the Adaptation Agreements”; and (2) Willis be enjoined from terminating any licenses issued or derivativeworks authorized, by Plaintiffs, which existed prior to the termination of the copyrightassignment.////////2
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II. DISCUSSIONA. Valdiity of the Notice of Termination
Plaintiffs’ main argument is that Willis’s notice of termination is not valid becauseWillis is the only author who served a notice of termination. According to Plaintiffs, under 17 U.S.C. § 203(a)(1), a majority of all of the authors who transferred their copyright interestsin a joint work, whether their transfers were part of the same transaction or separatetransactions, must join in a termination for it to be valid. Willis and Amicus Songwriters’Guild of America (“SGA”), on the other hand, contend that since Willis was the only personwho executed the grants of his copyright interests in the Compositions, he alone has theability to terminate those grants. The Court agrees with Willis and SGA.Because the transfers of copyright at issue in this case occurred after January 1,1978, the Copyright Act of 1976 (“Act”) governs. The Act provides authors and their statutory successors with the ability to terminate a transfer of copyright or license by servingadvance notice under specified time limits and conditions.17 U.S.C. § 203 provides:(a) Conditions for Termination.--In the case of any work other than a workmade for hire, the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license of copyright or of any right under a copyright, executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978, otherwise than by will, is subject to termination under thefollowing conditions:(1)
In the case of a grant executed by one author, termination of the grant may be effected by that author 
or, if the author is dead,by the person or persons who, under clause (2) of thissubsection, own and are entitled to exercise a total of more thanone-half of that author's termination interest.
In the case of agrant executed by two or more authors of a joint work,termination of the grant may be effected by a majority of theauthors who executed it 
; if any of such authors is dead, thetermination interest of any such author may be exercised as aunit by the person or persons who, under clause (2) of thissubsection, own and are entitled to exercise a total of more thanone-half of that author's interest.Termination of the grant may be effected at any time during a period of five years beginningat the end of thirty-five years from the date of execution of the grant. 17 U.S.C. § 203(a)(3).To terminate a grant, a termination notice must be served on the grantee or grantee’ssuccessor not less than two nor more than ten years before the date of termination specified3
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