11WILLIS-articleLarge In one of the very first posts on this blog last year, we reported on Victor Willis’s “early victory” in his quest to recover valuable copyrights on songs he co-wrote for the Village People back in the 1970s.  (Willis, pictured here, was also their lead singer, dressed back in the day as the “cop.”) Willis was one of the first to invoke a provision of the 1976 Copyright Act that permits artists to “clawback” copyrights they may have improvidently assigned away after 35 years, upon giving two years written notice. The provision is intended to “safeguard[ ] authors against unremunerative transfers” and address “the unequal bargaining position of authors, resulting in part from the impossibility of determining a work’s value until it has been exploited”

Willis had succeeded in blocking the publishing and recording companies that presently control those copyrights from opposing his termination notice on the ground that his co-writers had not joined in it. It was an important victory, but only a provisional one, as other issues remained to be litigated and an appeal of that ruling would seem to be inevitable in due course. Thus, I was surprised to see a story posted on the New York Times website today breathlessly reporting that Willis would indeed be regaining control of “Y-M-C-A,” this coming Friday, the 35th anniversary of his original copyright assignment and, what’s more, he’s not so sure he is going to let anyone else use it. Should bands booked for weddings and bar mitzvahs this weekend be revamping their set lists?



floThe lead vocals for Frank Zappa’s fine 1970 Chunga’s Revenge album were performed by a duo billed  as the THE PHLORESCENT LEECH & EDDIE. It was a badly kept secret that this was actually Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, founders of the 60s soft rock band the Turtles, who used the pseudonym due to a lingering contractual dispute with their former label. After a brief stint with the Mothers of Invention, they began recording and touring as Flo & Eddie. Now their corporate alter ego, Flo & Eddie, Inc., which owns the rights to all of the Turtles’ master recordings (including such bona fide classics as “Happy Together” and “Eleanore”) is taking the lead in the pursuit of one of the holy grails of pre-1970s recording artists–royalties for the use of their old records by digital transmission services. Its class action suit against Sirius XM, filed last week in a California state court, has the aura of a test case which, if successful, would have broad ramifications for other broadcasters offering interactive features.



dosI still have a Proustian experience every time I take my old vinyl copies of The Who Live at Leeds or The Mothers-Fillmore East June 1971 off the shelf.  It is not just fond memories of seeing those bands perform back in the early 70s that come flooding back.  The artless covers and handwritten labels on those official releases were Pete Townsend and Frank Zappa’s ironic acknowledgements of the then-raging market in bootleg concert recordings, and they transport me back to a time when there was no bigger thrill than getting an invitation to listen to the latest genuine, sort of speak, bootleg.  (As a future respectable representative of copyright owners, I, of course, would not have trafficked in such contraband myself.) I had some of the same rush reading Alex  Sayf Cummings’s Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century (Oxford Univ. Press), which places the concert bootleggers of my youth somewhere near the middle of a legal and historical continuum that stretches from jazz buffs of the 1930s who dubbed out-of-print recordings, to the DJs who created hip-hop mix tapes of the 1980s and 90s, to international CD counterfeiting rings of recent years. (more…)


One of the guilty pleasures of vinyl record collecting in the 60s and 70s was taking advantage of Columbia House Record Club’s introductory teaser offers, usually 12 records for a dollar, to  purchase in bulk. (Did I hear you say that there must be a catch? Of course, but I’d love to know what percentage of takers fulfilled the reciprocal obligation to buy 12 more at list price.) I am sure we gave no more thought to how the  artists were making out on the deal than do today’s file-sharers.  Now representatives of some of the leading recording artists of the 1930s-50s have filed a lawsuit that will require all of us former Columbia House abusers to do a little soul-searching.



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