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Scorpio Music (Black Scorpio) S.A. and Can't Stop Productions, Inc v. Victor Willis

March 4, 2013

SCORPIO MUSIC (BLACK SCORPIO) S.A. AND CAN'T STOP PRODUCTIONS, INC.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
VICTOR WILLIS, DEFENDANT. VICTOR WILLIS, COUNTERCLAIMANT,
v.
SCORPIO MUSIC (BLACK SCORPIO) S.A. AND CAN'T STOP PRODUCTIONS, INC.,
COUNTERCLAIM-DEFENDANTS, -AND- HENRI BELOLO,
ADDITIONAL COUNTERCLAIM-DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barry Ted Moskowitz, Chief Judge United States District Court

ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS COUNTERCLAIM

Plaintiffs-Counterdefendants Scorpio Music (Black Scorpio) S.A. and Can't Stop Productions, Inc. ("Plaintiffs") have filed a Motion to Dismiss Counterclaim. On January 10, 2013, the Court held oral argument on the motion. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiffs' motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

This lawsuit concerns the termination by Defendant Victor Willis of his post-1977 grants of his copyright interests in certain musical compositions.

Willis is the original lead singer of the Village People. Plaintiff Scorpio Music S.A. ("Scorpio") is a French corporation engaged in the business of publishing and otherwise commercially exploiting musical compositions. Plaintiff Can't Stop Productions, Inc. ("Can't Stop") is the exclusive sub-publisher and administrator in the United States of musical compositions published and owned by Scorpio. Plaintiffs allege that between 1977 and 1979, they hired Willis to translate the lyrics of and/or create new lyrics for certain musical compositions which were owned and published in France by Scorpio. Copyright registrations for the 33 musical compositions ('Compositions") at issue, including the hit song "Y.M.C.A.," credit Willis as being one of several writers. By way of Adaptation Agreements, Willis transferred his copyright interests in the subject Compositions to Can't Stop. Can't Stop thereupon assigned to Scorpio its rights in the lyrics. The Adaptation Agreements provided that Willis would receive a set percentage (12%-20%, depending on the composition) of Can't Stop's gross receipts from exploitation of the Compositions.

In January 2011, Willis served on Plaintiffs a notice of termination of his grants of copyright with respect to the Compositions. (Ex. A to FAC).

On July 14, 2011, Plaintiffs commenced this lawsuit. In their original complaint, Plaintiffs challenged the validity of the notice of termination and sought a judgment declaring that Willis has no right, title, or interest in the copyrights to the Compositions, requiring Willis to withdraw the notice of termination, and enjoining Willis from making any claims to the Compositions' copyrights.

In an order filed on May 5, 2012, the Court granted Willis's motion to dismiss. The Court held that, contrary to Plaintiffs' contention, Willis could unilaterally terminate his grants under 17 U.S.C. § 203 because Willis granted his copyright interests in the compositions separately from the other co-authors. However, the Court granted Plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint to seek declaratory relief regarding what percentage of copyright interest Willis was entitled to receive back upon termination.

On June 5, 2012, Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint, seeking a judicial determination regarding the percentage of interest in the copyrights at issue that Willis can recover upon termination. Plaintiffs contend that the correct measure of Willis's interest should be equal to the percentage Willis received in direct payments from BMI, a not-for-profit rights society which remits royalties directly to writers and publishers, or, at most,

33.3% (representing an equal share if there are 3 authors).

On August 1, 2012, Willis filed a Counterclaim. In his Counterclaim for Declaratory

Relief, Willis claims that Henri Belolo did not contribute to the authorship of the lyrics or the music of 24 of the Compositions (Jacques Morali is credited with composing the music).*fn1

Willis claims that he is entitled to a declaratory judgment that the notice of termination is valid and that he is a 50% owner of the copyrights to the 24 works and is therefore entitled to ...


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