Court Says Men At Work Copied Song For Down Under

By Brent Randall 2011-10-08 11:38:20
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Australian 80’s rock band Men at Work have been denied appeal of a ruling that found the flute riff from their hit “Down Under” was taken from a campfire song. Aside from the chorus, the flute part is probably the thing you remember about this song. So it’s kind of a big deal if they took that from somewhere else.

Last summer, the court in Australia found that Men at Work had taken the distinctive flute section for “Down Under” from everyone’s favourite campfire song, “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.” Apparently a kookaburra is a famous Australian bird with a call that sounds like human laughter. Creepy.

As CBS reports, the kookaburra song was written over 70 years ago by an Australian music teacher named Marion Sinclair. Publishing company Larrikin Music now holds the copyright to that song, and sued Men at Work’s recording company EMI Songs Australia in 2009.

Since copyright infringement basically breaks down to whether there was knowledge of the other song and substantial copying, knowledge was easily satisfied since the kookaburra song was well known in Australia. The Australian Federal Court found that the flute riff from “Down Under” substantially replicated part of the kookaburra song, and then ordered that EMI pay 5% of the royalties that the song has earned from 2002 and will earn in the future.

5% doesn’t seem like a lot for a distinctive part of a hit song, but since the song is still quite popular in Australia, it will likely translate into a decent amount of money. This ruling from the court was the last chance that the band had to fight the decision. So Men at Work, a band that apparently still exists, will be working at least a little bit for someone else.

Click here for a short video comparing the similar aspects of the songs. It doesn't seem like a lot, but apparently it was enough.
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