Skip to comments.Men At Work lose plagiarism case in Australia (plagiarised a Girl Guides' song)
Posted on 02/05/2010 10:10:37 AM PST by a fool in paradise
The Australian band Men at Work are facing a big legal bill after a court ruled it had plagiarised a Girl Guides' song in its 1983 hit, Down Under.
Larrikin Music had claimed the flute riff was stolen from Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, written by Marion Sinclair in 1934.
The federal court in Sydney ordered compensation to be paid.
That amount has yet to be determined but Larrikin's lawyer said it could reach 60% of income from the song.
"It's a big win for the underdog," said Larrikin's lawyer Adam Simpson after the judgment.
Sinclair, who died in 1988, wrote the song for performance at a Girl Guides Jamboree in 1935.
Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree has since been sung by generations of Australian schoolchildren.
A costs hearing will take place in late February, with Larrikin seeking 40%-60% of earnings from songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert and record companies Sony BMG Music Entertainment and EMI Songs Australia.
Down Under, first released in 1983, was used in the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
A number one in Australia, the US and the UK, the song tells the story of an Australian backpacker touring the world...
(Excerpt) Read more at news.bbc.co.uk ...
Good grief... how long are copyrights on songs in Australia anyway?
Plagiarism is men at work, too!
A local radio station played the two songs involved in this lawsuit. What a stretch, I can’t believe Men at Work lost. I’d think they’d try to appeal, maybe.
And the Men At Work song was released in 1983, so it took them 27 years ago to figure Men At Work allegedly plagarized a Girl Guide song?
In the USA works published prior to January 1, 1923 are in the public domain. It's a long time!
I just listened to both, in my mind they are not even close. Men at Work got hosed!!!
Utterly ridiculous...the flute part is really an after-thought...not much to do with the original melody that drives the song....and then add the vocal melody and you have an original song. What a friggin joke...
It sounds like there were maybe 10 notes lifted but that was it...that isn’t quite grounds for plagiarism. It was during the flute break, not really the song’s melody.
I guess there’s a book out called Sounds like Teen Spirit, about intentional lifting (or unintentional?), etc. from one song to the other. May have to pick up one day but I probably already of some cases:
Harrison’s My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine
Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love/ Muddy Waters (Willie Dixon)’s
You Need Love
John Fogerty plagiarizing himself: The Old Man Down the Road/ Run Through The Jungle
I also remember an ad for Jamaica tourism; now I don’t know if they got the song rights from Lennon’s estate, but the melody sounded an awful lot like a John and Yoko Christmas tune:
Come back to Jamaica, what’s old is what’s new
We want you to join us, it’s waiting for you
So this is Christmas, and what have you done
Another year older, a new one just begun
(Hadn’t heard of it going to court or anything but
I noticed the similarities)
WTF. Maybe three or four notes of the flute riff is like Kookabara. Also is the copyright in AU for 100+ years. This is stretch. And what about any statute of limitations? The Men At Work song in 20+ years old.
I probably KNOW already that should say
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The two songs sound nothing alike.
you know, they have been extending copyrights recently....to infinity and beyond!
In music, there’s a difference between plaigiarism and quoting. You can’t, obviously, reference your sources in a three minute song. Generally, it’s not considered a problem unless it’s the entire song (see the Ghostbusters vs. I Want a New Drug lawsuit from the 80s between Ray Parker Jr. and Huey Lewis).
You can, however, quote a part of another song. Musicians do it all the time. It’s commonly accepted practice. That’s clearly what happened here. There’s no question he’s quoting the Kookaburra song (he’s sitting in a gum tree in the original video, for pete’s sake), but the real question is whether or not it matters.
I’d say no... along with damn near every pop musician of the last 60 years.
Answer songs (someone’s sequel to someone else’s song) used to be common in the 1950s and 1960s. Some resulted in lawsuits but others did not.
Then the was the tactic of adding No.2 to a title (I’ve seen it with country songs from the 1960s, some parodies but others were answer songs).
You summed it up nicely. I am very pro-copyright, and I’d hate for any of my published works to get ripped off.
But this is a quotation of a fragment of melody that has come to be recognized as quintessentially Australian—it’s not a ripoff of a whole song or the melodic/harmonic structure thereof. Heck, Mozart was doing it back in the day.
I hope the “damages” are light. I really think this is a stretch of a lawsuit.
Yeah, because of stupid Mickey Mouse. Steamboat Willie should be in the public domain already.
Ideally, the judge will rule that damages be limited to $1.
The notes and measures are demonstrably different!
Hell, Jimi Hendrix quoted "Strangers in the Night" at his famous Monterey Pop Festival performance of Wild Thing (see 2:48 here). Musicians do it all the time. As long as it's not the central theme of the song, it's not only not a big deal, it's generally considered quite a compliment.
I recall learning this song decades ago in my elementary school music class. I still remember the tune but not what a Kookaburra is. Even at the time I thought it was annoying to have to sing about something called a Kookaburra. I doubt the publisher of our school music book paid royalties to Australia.
We learned it in 2nd grade. I swear they said it was a bird.
They stink anyway. Not quite as much as the idiots called Midnight Oil though
Is there any Australian band that gets your vote?
Olivia Newton John?
The result was a settlement by which John Lennon would record a whole album of cover songs (for which the same man owned publishing rights).
I touch myself was an Aussie song wasn’t it? LOL
But isn’t that was Vanilla Ice was sued for by Foreigner, or whoever it was?
“Sampling” - as it’s called now - is not new. Heck, the national anthem for the USA was just a beer-drinking bar song from the UK with original words to it.
Vanilla Ice was indeed sued by Queen, because he used the main riff from “Under Pressure” as the main riff for his song “Ice Ice Baby.”
Legally speaking, using samples is okay as long as the original recording is properly referenced, for instance in the liner notes. It’s called “clearing” and it’s the generally accepted practice.
Musically, sampling sucks.
But the riffs on Under Pressure and Ice Ice Baby were different - slightly. Sure, it sounded a LOT alike, but it wasn’t exactly the same.
Kind of like calling it Mikey Mouse, instead of Mickey Mouse.
bttt to both of you
Poor Colin Hay :(
But while quoting a song is often a common practice, it has been established that you cannot sing 90% of Howlin Wolf's “Killing Floor Blues”, throw in a Robert Johnson line about “squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg”; and then call it “the Lemon Song” (Led Zeppelin)and not pay Howlin Wolf his money.
But the riff on squeezing lemons was obviously not “plagiarizing” Robert Johnson.
If you go to the Wikipedia page on the Men At Work song, they mention the controversy and they have some links to Aussie forums discussing this. The Aussies think this is insane. People pointed out that the songwriter died without ever making a peep about the Men at Work song, then the label buys the rights from her estate and then sues.
Most of them think the rec company guys are just vultures trying to score some money off of someone else’s work. So at least the rec company is losing the PR war.
Vanilla Ice admitted to sampling it, just electronically cutting out one note.
Regardless, the problem was that that riff was the centerpiece of both songs.
Thanks. I hadn't noticed it myself until someone pointed it out to me on a music forum.
the flute riff was stolen from Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, written by Marion Sinclair in 1934
Makes me want to chunder....
Vultures, IMO. I thought of it more as a tribute to a song every Australian child learned to sing.
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