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Men at Work’s “Down Under” in Copyright Suit

Issued: January 01 2009
Larrikin Music Publishing has commenced proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia for infringement of copyright in the children’s song “Kookaburra” by Men At Work’s 1981 hit song “Down Under,” say lawyers Maya Port and Lisa Ritson in Blake Dawson’s IP Bite.

Larrikin claims that the melody of the refrain “kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” is a substantial part of “Kookaburra” and that it has been reproduced in “Down Under.” Larrikin also claims that the refrain from “Kookaburra” has not been acknowledged by the songwriters, publishers or sound recorders of “Down Under”, who have collected royalties regarding the song since its release as a single, including the song’s use in feature films.

Larrikin claims that “Kookaburra” was written by a Melbourne teacher in 1934 for a Girl Guide jamboree and that the copyright in the song was transferred to the Libraries Board of South Australia in 1987 and subsequently to Larrikin Music in 2000 in an agreement backdated to 1990.

Larrikin has commenced proceedings for copyright infringement against multiple parties, including Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, who wrote “Down Under,” and recording companies Sony BMG Music Entertainment (Australia) and Sony DADC Australia.

The music company filed its application in the Federal Court in February 2008 after being alerted to the similarities between the songs following an episode of the ABC musical quiz show “Spicks and Specks.” In the show, a question was asked “What children’s song is contained in the song ‘Down Under’?” with the answer given as “Kookaburra.” A mediation was held on November 7, 2008, which resolved the matter in part, with further directions pending.


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