Village People, whose name referenced New York's Greenwich Village, was formed in 1977 and was fashioned after stereotype gay-themed characters. The original act featured Willis dressed as a police officer, Randy Jones as a cowboy, David Hodo as a construction worker, Glenn Hughes as a biker, Alexander Briley as a soldier and Felipe Rose as an American Indian chief.
Village People had three straight hits with "Macho Man," "YMCA" and "In the Navy" and then minor records "Go West" and the title song from the movie, "Can't Stop The Music," before the novelty of the act wore off and the group fell from the airwaves and popularity.
Willis and his wife Karen, who is a lawyer, have filed suit in California to win the copyright to 33 songs they contend he wrote that were recorded by the Village People and other artists, the BBC reported Monday.
"They include those that he wrote as the original songwriter for the Village People and … other bands, Karen Willis said.
"In America there is a wonderful thing called the 1976 Copyright Act which allows artists to reclaim the rights to their songs 35 years after their release," she said.
Stewart L. Levy, attorney for the publishing companies, told The New York Times they had asked a court to rule Willis' filing "void and of no force," the BBC reported.
"The Village People were a concept group, created by my clients, who picked the people and the costumes," Levy said. "We hired this guy. He was an employee; we gave them the material and a studio to record in and controlled what was recorded, where, what hours and what they did."
Karen Willis disputes the contention.
"He wrote the songs outside the group, at home and in hotel rooms," she said. "They won't get anywhere with that."