News & Insights 6 March 2010

The Kookaburra counts his money…

A picture of a kookaburra. So sue me.You may have heard that Men At Work, who wrote and performed the massive 1983 hit, “Down Under“, have been sued by Sydney-based publishing company Larrikin Music for apparently plagiarising a line of melody from “Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree”, a song written for the Girl Guides in 1934. Larrikin were attempting to claim up to 60% of the income earned from the song, which could amount to as much as $60 million. It is unclear at the moment exactly how much money the publishing company will make from the endeavour, but one thing is for sure – the judge has ruled in their favour.

may have heard that Men At Work, who wrote and performed the massive 1983 hit, “Down Under]”, have been sued by Sydney-based publishing company Larrikin Music for apparently plagiarising a line of melody from “Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree”, a song written for the Girl Guides in 1934. Larrikin were attempting to claim up to 60% of the income earned from the song, which could amount to as much as $60 million. It is unclear at the moment exactly how much money the publishing company will make from the endeavour, but one thing is for sure – the judge has ruled in their favour.
There are a whole bunch of things that annoy me about this.
First of all, this song has been kicking around for 25 years and, in that time, nobody apart from Larrikin (and that includes the late Marion Sinclair, who actually wrote Kookaburra) has noticed this apparent “rip-off”. Secondly, “Down Under” songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Stryckert of Men At Work actually had nothing to do with the flute riff in question. It was, unsurprisingly, improvised by a flautist called Greg Ham. Thirdly, to suggest that two seconds of an instrumental hook could equate to 60% of the popularity of the song is patently ludicrous.
Ultimately, however, the thing that really grinds my gears about this whole business is an article I read on the BBC website, in which Larrikin’s lawyer Adam Simpson claimed that his triumph in the case had been “a victory for the underdog”. Underdog?!! Aspiring musicians strike it lucky with a cracking tune and make a ton of money USING THEIR ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE TALENT and then, nearly thirty years later, a bunch of guys in suits who have probably never created anything more complicated than a pasta sauce gang together to mercilessly rob them of millions and millions of their hard-earned dollars? Underdog my hat. What a load of utter bullcrap.
Oh, and whilst I’m on the subject of the prosecutors, Larrikin owner Norm Lurie has had the gall to imply that this wasn’t all about the money and to position himself as some kind of crusader for moral justice. He has commented in interview: “Of course it would be disingenuous for me to say that there wasn’t a financial aspect involved, [but] you could just as easily say what has won out today is the importance of checking before using other people’s copyrights.” Hang on a minute – “a financial aspect”? Fine. If it really wasn’t all about the money, then you should give half of it to Marion Sinclair’s family instead of spending it all on cocaine and Armani suits, you dill-hole.
There’s something about the thought of thousands of lawyers and publishers across the world jumping on the bandwagon and insidiously rifling through every song that ever made any money in search of a tiny snatch of allegedly stolen melody that could lead to their next big pay cheque that makes me want to be really quite sick all over everything. No piece of art is ever completely original. Everybody knows that. The music industry has been recycling material since time-in-memoriam. That is how art works. Obviously you can’t go around shamefacedly nicking other people’s work – of course you can’t – but there is a line and in this case it has been crossed, as far as I’m concerned.
Having said all this, in researching this blog I came across a transcript for some of the words in “Down Under”, which to be honest I’d never fully taken in despite having heard the song numerous times. Check this out: “I come from a land down under, where beer does flow and men chunder”. Crikey. Those are some pretty dubious lyrics – which does make me wonder rather whether they had it coming to them….

There are a whole bunch of things that annoy me about this.

First of all, this song has been kicking around for 25 years and, in that time, nobody apart from Larrikin (and that includes the late Marion Sinclair, who actually wrote Kookaburra) has noticed this apparent “rip-off”. Secondly, “Down Under” songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Stryckert of Men At Work actually had nothing to do with the flute riff in question. It was, unsurprisingly, improvised by a flautist called Greg Ham. Thirdly, to suggest that two seconds of an instrumental hook could equate to 60% of the popularity of the song is patently ludicrous.

Ultimately, however, the thing that really grinds my gears about this whole business is an article I read on the BBC website, in which Larrikin’s lawyer Adam Simpson claimed that his triumph in the case had been “a victory for the underdog”. Underdog?!! Aspiring musicians strike it lucky with a cracking tune and make a ton of money USING THEIR ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE TALENT and then, nearly thirty years later, a bunch of guys in suits who have probably never created anything more complicated than a pasta sauce gang together to mercilessly rob them of millions and millions of their hard-earned dollars? Underdog my hat. What a load of utter bullcrap.

Oh, and whilst I’m on the subject of the prosecutors, Larrikin owner Norm Lurie has had the gall to imply that this wasn’t all about the money and to position himself as some kind of crusader for moral justice. He has commented in interview: “Of course it would be disingenuous for me to say that there wasn’t a financial aspect involved, [but] you could just as easily say what has won out today is the importance of checking before using other people’s copyrights.” Hang on a minute – “a financial aspect“? Fine. If it really wasn’t all about the money, then shouldn’t you consider giving half of it to Marion Sinclair’s family…?

There’s something about the thought of thousands of lawyers and publishers across the world jumping on the bandwagon and insidiously rifling through every song that ever made any money in search of a tiny snatch of allegedly stolen melody that could lead to their next big pay cheque that makes me want to be really quite sick all over everything. No piece of art is ever completely original. Everybody knows that. The music industry has been recycling material since time-in-memoriam. That is how art works. Obviously you can’t go around shamefacedly nicking other people’s work – of course you can’t – but there is a line and in this case it has been crossed, as far as I’m concerned.

Having said all this, in researching this blog I came across a transcript for some of the words in “Down Under”, which to be honest I’d never fully taken in despite having heard the song numerous times. Check this out: “I come from a land down under, where beer does flow and men chunder”. Crikey. Those are some pretty dubious lyrics – which does make me wonder rather whether they had it coming to them….

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