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Copyright issues in music are not limited to Boston courtrooms these days, and instead extend across oceans to Australia. The Grammy Award-winning band, Men at Work, famous for their 1980s hit, “Down Under,” lost the first stage of a copyright case in which a Sydney, Australia judge ruled that Men at Work does not own the copyright to the tune of their hit song.
Apparently, the “distinctive flute riff” in “Down Under” was a part of an Australian children’s song called “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree,” written by Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guides (called the Girl Scouts in the United States) competition in 1934. Interestingly, the rights to the song were not purchased by Larrakin Music until 1990, two years after Sinclair’s death.
To Men at Work’s recording companies’ credit, they fought back, rather than “lyin’ in a den in Bombay, with a slack jaw, and not much to say.” They argued that the Girl Guides, and not Larrakin Music, should own the copyright to the “Kookaburra” music. The judge, however, refused to buy that argument, and held that Larrakin Music indeed owns the copyright to the tune with the unmistakable flute melody.
In the next stage of the litigation, Larrakin Music will pursue a copyright infringement claim against Men at Work’s recording companies. It will attempt to collect lost royalties earned by Men at Work from “Down Under.” Men at Work “better take cover!”
– Lauren Solberg
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