Sometimes a little-known law can make all the difference in a legal outcome. Such is the case for Victor Willis. You may know him as the lead singer of the 1970s disco group, the Village People.
Recently, Mr. Willis was able to regain the rights to the songs he wrote after 1978, thanks to a relatively unknown law. This law went into effect in 1978 and allows artists to recover control of their creations once 35 years have passed. The law stands even if the artist originally signed their rights away. For now, the former singing policeman is still uncertain what he will do with his regained rights. He can now determine if the current Village People, who are still touring, can perform his songs.
Record companies are not happy about this law. They contest that songs should belong to the company forever. When an artist invokes these rights, it harms the record companies’ profits. In this case of Victor Willis, the record company tried to claim the artist was an employee of the company, but the “work for hire” claim was later withdrawn. This law, known as “termination rights,” may drastically change the ownership of many songs from the 70s and beyond. You can learn more about this case in this New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/11/arts/music/a-copyright-victory-35-years-later.html?_r=0