A Kookaburra bird
Australian band Men at Work have been ordered to pay for ripping off the popular Australian folk tune "Kookaburra." Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Australian band Men at Work has been ordered by the Australian high court to pay royalties for stealing a melody used in the band’s hit song “Down Under.” The band, who had several international hits in the 1980s, were found to have stolen the flute melody from the Australian folk classic “Kookaburra.”

Case claims flautist ripped off folk song

Men at Work, an Australian band that had hits in the 1980s, was sued in 2009 for allegedly stealing the flute melody used in their song “Down Under,” according to NPR.

Executives at Larrikin Music Publishing filed the suit after seeing an Australian quiz show featuring a segment of popular songs that had similar melodies to children’s songs. They noted similarities between the children’s song, “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree,” which Larrikin owns, and the flute part in Men at Work’s hit “Down Under.”

In 2010, the Australian Federal Court found in favor of Larrikin and ordered the band to pay royalties, according to CBS. The band appealed, but the High Court of Australia has just ruled against Men at Work.

Band to pay 5 percent of royalties

The Australian High Court upheld the 2010 ruling, which orders EMI Songs Australia and songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert of Men at Work to pay 5 percent of all royalties from the song “Down Under” received since 2002. Royalties received before that year are exempted by statute of limitations.

The “Kookaburra” song, according to The Australian, was written in 1934 by schoolteacher Marion Sinclair for the Girl Guides, Australia’s version of the Girl Scouts. Sinclair died in 1988 and the rights were sold to Larrikin in 1990. Larrikin was seeking up to 60 percent of royalties, which the Federal Court judge labeled “excessive … and unrealistic.”

Colin Hay, according to the BBC, wrote the song with Ron Strykert in 1978 before Men at Work existed. The flute part was added during live shows in 1979. Hay speculated the band’s flautist may have “subconsciously” referenced the melody in “Down Under,” which helped the band’s 1983 album “Business as Usual” become an international hit. The band’s flautist at the time was Greg Ham, according to Wikipedia.

Litigious musicians

Accusations of plagiarism also referred to as copyright infringement, and plagiarism lawsuits are fairly common in the music industry.

Guitarist Joe Satriani sued the band Coldplay in 2008, according to The Guardian, claiming Coldplay’s song “Viva La Vida” plagiarized his song “If I Could Fly.” The parties settled out of court in 2009.

According to the New York Post, musician Jake Holmes filed a lawsuit in 2010 against Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, claiming Page copied Holmes’ song “Dazed and Confused,” turning it into the Led Zeppelin song of the same title. Holmes released his version in 1967.


NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120984958


The Australian: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/men-at-work-avoid-big-royalties-payout-over-origins-of-hit-song-land-down-under/story-e6frg6nf-1225888404948

BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8499973.stm

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_as_Usual_%28Men_at_Work_album%29

The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/sep/16/coldplay-joe-satriani-lawsuit-dismissed

New York Post: http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/music/led_zeppelin_sued_by_folk_singer_Onb6nSTXepES8W0KURCX0O



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