“Ear” We Go Again



Now this one baffles me somewhat.  Quoting from the Associated Press:

“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.

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 favorite around campfires from New Zealand to Canada.”

You can read the rest of the article here.

I didn’t have to listen to “Down Under” to remember the flute part.  If you don’t know the song (you DON’T know the song??) you can have a listen below.  The flute part appears several times in the song.  Yes, it’s the same melody over a different chord progression.  I never made the connection before, however, and I know both songs.


What I find most baffling is that the whole thing is coming out just now, even though “Down Under” was released in 1981, 29 years ago.  Did it take 29 years to get to court?  The Australian teacher who wrote “Kookaburra” 70 years ago died in 1988, and her publishing company owns the copyright to the song.  So it’s not even that this settlement will benefit her family, as copyright usually reverts to the estate of a songwriter for a period of time after their death;  only the publishing company will make money. Not only that, but when they go back to court in April to decide compensation, the publishers are going to demand up to 60% of the back royalties.  Does 4-bar flute part in a 4 minute song deserve 60% of the royalties?  It all seems frivolous and greedy to me. I don’t know…I’d feel better if it was the teacher or her family that was going to get the money. IJ

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