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Australian band Men at Work copied a well known children's campfire song for the flute melody in its 1980s hit Down Under and owes the owner years of royalties, a court ruled Thursday.
Colin Hay, Men At Work's lead singer, has admitted that Down Under does include two bars referenced from Kookaburra. However, it wasn't in the original version he and Ron Strykert composed and performed starting in 1978, but was added later, during live shows and the subsequent 1982 album recording, by band member Greg Ham.
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"When I co wrote Down Under back in 1978, I appropriated nothing from anyone else's song. There was no Men At Work, there was no flute, yet the song existed. Sinclair's 1935 work," Federal Court Justice Peter Jacobson said.
Down Under and the album Business As Usual topped the Australian, American and British charts in early 1983. The song remains an unofficial anthem for Australia and was ranked fourth in a 2001 music industry survey of the best Australian songs. Men at Work won the 1983 Grammy Award for best new artist.
Australian pop group Men At Work, seen here in 1983, included (from left) Colin Hay, Ron Strykert, John Rees, Jerry Speiser and Greg Ham. ((Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images). )
'80s hit Down Under copies kids' song
He ordered the parties back in court Feb.
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"[Down Under] 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. There are reasons for this. It was inadvertent, naive, unconscious, and by the time Men At Work Cheap Women Canada Goose Kensington Parka Grey Singapore recorded the song, it had become unrecognizable," Hay said in a statement.
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Adam Simpson, Larrikin Music's lawyer, said outside court the company might seek up to 60 per cent of the royalties Down Under earned since its release an amount that could total millions.
Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree was written more than 70 years ago by Australian teacher Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guides competition, and the song has been a favourite around campfires from New Zealand to Canada.