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Men At Work

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  • Men At Work

    John Sayers mentioned this in my other post,
    (Australian ISP wins Piracy case against Film Industry!)
    But I thought it deserved it's own thread.

    This is about Men at Work being sued for copyright infringement
    over their worldwide smash hit "Down Under".

    They were sued by Larrikin Records who own the copyright to
    an old Australian Folk song called "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gumtree"
    or just plain "Kookaburra".
    For those who don't know, a Kookaburra is an Australian Native bird
    of the Kingfisher family, known for their crazy "laughing" call.
    More like a cackle really .... but I digress.

    The case revolved around the flute riff in "Downunder".
    more specifically, the 2nd 1/2 of the flute riff.
    It was alleged that the melody was plagiarised from the "Kookaburra" song.
    The original song didn't include the flute part.
    It was written by the Singer and Guitarist of Men at Work and
    the flute part was added later.

    The case was recently found in favor of the plaintiff.

    Below are YouTube clips of each song.
    What do you think of this decision?
    Do you think the judge got it right?

  • #2
    I don't see it myself


    • #3
      That's the dumbest thing in the world

      Colin Hay replies

      Read the whole thing, but...

      ...a song, namely Down Under, which was created and existed for at least a year before Men At Work recorded it. I stand by my claim that the two appropriated bars of Kookaburra were always part of the Men At Work "arrangement", of the already existing work and not the "composition".

      It was inadvertent, naive, unconscious, and by the time Men At Work recorded the song, it had become unrecognizable. It is also unrecognizable for many reasons. Kookaburra is written as a round in a major key, and the Men At Work version of Down Under is played with a reggae influenced "feel" in a minor key. This difference alone creates a completely different listening experience. The two bars in question had become part of a four bar flute part, thereby unconsciously creating a new musical "sentence" harmonically, and in so doing, completely changed the musical context of the line in question, and became part of the instrumentation of Men At Work's arrangement of Down Under.

      The copyright of 'Kookaburra' is owned and controlled by Larrikin Music Publishing, more specifically by a man named Norm Lurie. Larrikin Music Publishing is owned by a multi-national corporation called Music Sales. I only mention this as Mr. Lurie is always banging on about how he's the underdog, the little guy. Yet, he is part of a multi-national corporation just like EMI Music Publishing. It's all about money, make no mistake,

      It is indeed true, that Greg Ham (not a writer of the song) unconsciously referenced two bars of 'Kookaburra' on the flute, during live shows after he joined the band in 1979, and it did end up in the Men At Work recording...When Men At Work released the song 'Down Under' through CBS Records (now Sony Music), in 1982, it became extremely successful. It was, and continues to be, played literally millions of times all over the world, and it is no surprise that in over 20 years, no one noticed the reference to 'Kookaburra.'

      Mr. Lurie claims to care only about protecting the copyright of Marion Sinclair, who sadly has passed away. I don't believe him. It may well be noted, that Marion Sinclair herself never made any claim that we had appropriated any part of her song 'Kookaburra,' and she wrote it, and was most definitely alive, when Men At Work's version of 'Down Under' was a big hit. Apparently she didn't notice either.
      Music for your busy day.

      All the info you need.

      Be my friend?


      • #4
        I must assume that Down Under is a banana republic, and the judge is a cousin of the composer of the "Kookaburra" song.


        • #5
          this is beyond ridiculous. the judge should have sent the plaintiff to jail for being a selfish ass.
          band status - "its complicated"


          • #6
            I also think it's ridiculous but there's another aspect to this story.

            apparently EMI sued Larrikin over a Tom Waits song Larrikin published where the words of Waltzing Matilda were narrated over the end and EMI held the copyright of Waltzing Matilda..

            "Tom Traubert's Blues" Chorus

            now the dogs are barking
            and the taxi cab's parking
            a lot they can do for me
            I begged you to stab me
            you tore my shirt open
            and I'm down on my knees tonight
            Old Bushmill's I staggered, you buried the dagger in
            your silhouette window light to go
            waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda, you'll go waltzing
            Matilda with me

            EMI won the case and Larrikin had to pay EMI 5% of the Royalties.

            It's been suggested this is payback time!

            BTW - my avatar is a Kookaburra
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            • #7

              Almost all music is derivative of something...It is unconscious...I don't see the connection here...Too bad for MAW.
              Good deals with - Yarbicus, CBH5150, BozzofAngels, Alvin Wilson, Harris Quinn

              Oh, but you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.


              • #8
                I confess, I DO hear it, and I suspect Men At Work (or their mix sweeteners) were indeed seeking to give their tune an "Australian flavour" by subtly quoting that folk tune. From the beginning, MAW capitalized on their "Down Under"-ness to sell their image on MTV and elsewhere. No crime in that. That particular song lyric contains numerous references to things which are popularly thought to be strictly Australian.

                But to be fair, they were probably 100% convinced that "Kookaburra" was such an old folk tune, that it surely must be within the Public domain by now. Like, how we Americans would imagine a Stephen Foster tune to be today.

                I mean, how many of us know that "Happy Birthday (To You)" is still under copyright?

                Plagiarism suits have been lost over nonsense even subtler than this. I'm thinking of the way Bette Midler sued.....and won.... when a car commercial featured a girl singing "Do Ya Wanna Dance?" slowly and sexily. Midler claimed that her "style had been appropriated". Not her song, her "style". What's the world coming to if you can't imitate somebody else's "style" ?

                As we know, Huey Lewis's "I Want A New Drug" was successfully sued by Ray Parker, Jr., when it was alleged that Lewis's tune USED THE SAME CHORD CHANGES as Parker's "Ghostbusters". We're not even talking melodic plagiarism here.... but rather, merely using the same set of chord changes!
                Every paint-stroke takes you farther and farther away from your initial concept. And you have to be thankful for that. Wayne Thiebaud

                Friend me on FACEBOOK!


                • #9
                  Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker, Jr first as "I Want a New Drug" was written first. Huey got sued by Ray because he mentioned the suit-not supposed to talk about it.

                  Elmer Tiberius Fudd


                  • #10
                    i just heard two country songs with 1,4,1,5 in them same style, same chord progression, similar crappy content, someone should sue!
                    band status - "its complicated"


                    • #11

                      ... someone should sue!

                      I missed the chance 40 years ago to compose the two dozen melodies usually found in later pop songs


                      • #12
                        It has been suggested that the Kookaburra song was taken from an old Welsh folk song.
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                        • #13
                          It has been suggested that the Kookaburra song was taken from an old Welsh folk song.

                          This is probably the greatest threat to musical
                          creativity in our time IMHO.
                          How can music grow and move forward if people
                          are too frightened to use, as inspiration, what
                          has gone before for fear of being sued?

                          They've managed to extend copyright way
                          beyond the original concept till it's reduced
                          music to monetized chunks to be owned,
                          bought and sold, fought over ......

                          Not what music is s'posed be about.

                          It's even more disturbing that this particular
                          fracas may be a simple payback for EMI
                          originally suing Larrikin over 3 lines from
                          Waltzing Matilda!

                          The musicians are are caught in the crossfire
                          of the shootout between the business men.
                          And yet without the musicians, there would be no
                          "Music Business".

                          It's beyond comprehension to me that a tune
                          like Waltzing Matilda or Happy Birthday can
                          be "owned" by some faceless corporation who
                          holds the copyright.

                          That's not copyright to me .. it's copywrong!

                          This way of thinking has directly contributed to the
                          rampant piracy that is blamed for the downfall
                          of the music business.
                          People justify piracy to themselves by rationalizing that
                          they're not stealing from the musicians but from the
                          soulless, greedy corporate executives.

                          It's all wrong and a terrible tragedy for music and musicians.


                          • #14
                            I agree mate - I stated it was ridiculous from the start - I was just informing everyone of the other aspects to the story.
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                            • #15
                              I agree mate - I stated it was ridiculous from the start - I was just informing everyone of the other aspects to the story.

                              I know you do John.

                              My rant wasn't aimed at you in any way.

                              More inspired by your observation that
                              the Kookaburra song may itself have been
                              inspired by an earlier work .
                              And how that process is being killed off
                              by the shortsightedness and greed of corporations
                              and people who control and/or work for them.