Music Publisher Suddenly Claims 80s Australian Pop Hit Infringed On 1930s Kids Tune

from the i-come-from-a-kookaburra-down-under dept

Mick was the first of a few folks who sent in this story about how an Australian music publishing firm, Larrikin Music, is suddenly accusing the Australian band, Men At Work, of “ripping off” a 1930s popular Austrlian children’s song, “Kookaburra” with their hit song “Down Under.” Why did it take so long? Well, Larrikin only gained the copyright in 2000, but that’s still 9 years of nothing. Apparently, they only noticed the similarities when an Australian quiz show brought it up — which certainly raises questions about any “harm” done by this (if there was any actual copying). Once again, like similar stories (such as the Coldplay/Satriani/Creaky Boards/Cat Stevens battle), it’s difficult to see why this even matters. Even if the songs are similar, it’s not as if one makes the other any less valuable. If anything, it’s only served to drive more attention to the similar songs. This is nothing more than a music publishing company desperate for cash grasping at straws to demand cash from others who have been more successful.

Anyway, for comparison’s sake, here’s a group of kids singing Kookaburra:

And here’s the song Down Under:
Can anyone tell the difference?

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Comments on “Music Publisher Suddenly Claims 80s Australian Pop Hit Infringed On 1930s Kids Tune”

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mjb5406 (profile) says:


OK… the ONLY part of the song that sounds like Kookaburra is during the bridge between verses… and since the song Kookaburra is so associated with the Aussies, it makes sense. That someone would somehow confuse the 2 songs is a real stretch, and would be like someone saying that music from the play 1776 infringes because parts of it sound like the National Anthem, Yankee Doodle and other patriotic songs. The music company should kick back and put another shrimp on the barbie… all this does is makes them look stupid, mates.

Michael B (profile) says:

Re: Re: Yikes

I know… my wife has dear friends from Australia. It was kind of a dig on my part against the stereotype, which is even promulgated by Outback Steak House. Kind of like the people who think Chicago (where I am from) is still run by gangsters like Al Capone… the biggest group of criminals we have around here consists of politicians!

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Hah, so you can file a lawsuit on 3 sec thats just a tad close to your song?

I said it last time and Ill say it agin, some day someone with far to much computer power will make a song with EVERY combo of notes that somehow makes sence then like it or not everyone will infringe on him espically if he makes the song really well known (but it will be really bad).

can we just point out that other then really blantent copying this is just a bad idea?

Eldakka says:

Re: Re: Re:

err, no, there is not an infinite combination of notes.

The set of notes is finite, not infinite.

The duration of a piece of music is finite, not infinite.

Assuming we have actual, human, musicians playing instruments, there can only be a finite number of instruments being played in the piece.

Even orchestra’s have a finite number of instruments in them.

Therefore by definition in any finite time period with a finite series of notes (the known set of all notes) with a finite number of instruments there is a finite combination of notes that can be made.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sorry but the ‘the known set of all notes’ is infinite. This is due to the fact that musical notes are chosen to be specific frequencies, however any SLIGHT variation on each of those frequencies is in fact different while no longer being the officially recognized musical note. Playing something out of tune is playing something that is dissimilar by nature.

Secondly, the ‘finite combination of notes’ is nothing of the kind really. There are over 4000 recognized musical scales within the piano range and this does not exhaust the possibilities of notes in between the half steps. The number of audio frequencies within the hearing range is infinite, as well as choices of ‘notes’, number of possible combinations/scales, and potential musical themes using them — all infinite.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Erm, you’re reaching….

“Secondly, the ‘finite combination of notes’ is nothing of the kind really. There are over 4000 recognized musical scales within the piano range”

Doesn’t the fact that you can count the music scales make them finite?

“this does not exhaust the possibilities of notes in between the half steps. “

Are those recognised notes? Would playing slightly off-key make the sequence significantly different, or would it just make the music sound bad? Remember, we’re talking about human perception of the similarities.

“The number of audio frequencies within the hearing range is infinite”

But frequencies != notes.

“as well as choices of ‘notes’, number of possible combinations/scales, and potential musical themes using them — all infinite.”

No they’re not.

You seem to be confusing the number of available analog frequencies with the number of available musical notes. Yeah, in theory a note of middle C is 261.626 Hz, and a “note” of 261.726 and one of 261.526 Hz would be different frequencies. But, they’re all middle C for the purposes of music, only the latter two would be slightly off key.

There is a finite number of notes, and a finite number of combinations of those notes. Yes, these combinations would likely run into hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) and a track containing them would be both very long and horrible to listen to. But, it’s certainly possible to create such a track.

Especially when you consider that for the purposes of litigation (what the original post you replied to was referring to), playing slightly off-key or in a different octave would not be sufficient to avoid similarities between tracks.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

The only reason I'm conflicted

Is because I just heard that song on the radio at work (for FREE!!!!), and dear lord does it suck. I mean, it’s a special kind of terrible, so bad in fact that I think the band/publisher/fans should all be fined for allowing it to be released and make it popular enough to put on the radio.

As for the Aussies, what do you expect from a nation created by people that even the ENGLISH couldn’t stand?

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: The only reason I'm conflicted

My fault for not properly applying a sarcasm tag.

And no I haven’t been there. I was going to vacation there, but watched a copy of Kangaroo Jack, with that ‘Roo and Jerry O’Connell. And frankly, I don’t need to be in the same country as a hairy, smelly beast that has no business being in movies. Oh, and the kangaroo wasn’t very good either…

Bagend says:

Re: The only reason I'm conflicted

I should correct you,

Australia was formed by convicts after the United States stopped letting England dump them there.

Check your history books mate ;o)

But I agree with you. This is a side to Australia of which we’re very embarrassed and would rather the whole gum tree / rolf harris / paul hogan stereotype would go away.

Our only problem is we keep voting Queenslanders into parliament.

CopyJosh (profile) says:

Kookaburra? Not how I learned it...

Funny, I didn’t think I ever heard of that song until watching that video (the choir one). I had camp counselors when I was a kid play that song to much different lyrics. Should I tell and have them sued? After all, they were getting paid for their time.

I’m a big fan of Colin Hay and, as a guitarist myself, never made the connection. But honestly, there aren’t that many chord progressions out there as people said. Why don’t we just copyright the 1st 5th, 4th, 6th of every key? How many songs do you think you are going to “infringe”?

LaFade says:

My favorite part of the MaW video? The hopping.

A snip of Kookaburra is definitely there, but it’s pretty well incorporated into an entirely different song. A song that was produced well before Larrikin bought the rights?

And by the by, I’m born and raised in the US. My mom taught me the Kookaburra song when I was wee. I think my grandfather, a merchant marine, might’ve taught it to her.

Gotta say, never heard it in that 80’s song until I read this article today. I miss goofy 80’s videos. Sigh.

Anome (profile) says:

It’s not like it was any secret that Men at Work deliberately used (a small part of) the melody of Kookaburra in the song. It’s a traditional Australian folk song (even if it only dates from the 1930s, of which I am not convinced) that every Australian school child learns (and sings, incessantly) at primary school. Plus Down Under has been out for over 25 years (I feel old).

Paul Hobbs (profile) says:


As an Aussie (and proud of it) I am part shocked, part saddened, and part amused at the suit being brought by Larrikin Music. We (ie: Aussies) often joke about Americans being willing to sue anyone and everyone over just about anything. Maybe I should sue my parents because I’m not blonde, and therefore I don’t have as much fun?

As for the suit itself, the consensus seems to be that it will be thrown out of court. The similarity between “Down Under” and “Kookaburra” isn’t strong. And let’s not forget that they still need to prove it was intentional, not a fluke coincidence.

By the way, a larrikin is someone who is a bit of a clown, a joker, is a bit irreverent, and who mocks authority. Doesn’t exactly describe Larrikin Music, does it?

JSF (profile) says:

I’m not from Australia, but even I know there was an obvious reference to Kookaburra in this song. As far as I know it was fairly common knowledge among anyone that knew the two songs. At about 50 seconds into the video the flutist is sitting in a bloody tree while playing the short Kookaburra part. Talk about an obvious reference.

Now is it a copyright violation. I’m not so sure. Seeing how short it is then using the phrases like “I Love You” or “Ladies and Gentlemen” in a song, book, script, etc. would also have to be considered copyright infringement of whomever copyrighted it first.

Bagend says:

Technically, this is paying homage to the kookaburra song (in the flue) not an infringement, and the guys can get off easily by saying ‘coincidence’.

Honestly, copyright a simple blues riff and you’ve got everyone from Muddy Waters to Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughn to fucking everyone. Copyright the chords E, A and B in that order and there goes most of Rock and Roll’s greatest hits.

Copyright a chimpanzee with some silver chains jumping up and down singing about all the groupies he’s never ahd and you’ve single handedly taken out hip hop as well.

84user (profile) says:

Can't hear any similarities

The first 11 notes of the first two bars of the Kookaburra song match the same notes played faster in one bar of the flute riff at 12 to 14 seconds in the Down Under song.

If I have understood the sheet music correctly the Kookaburra notes are (G is G4): G G G G A A A G E G E.

The Down Under flute riff notes are almost an octave higher (F# is F5#): F# F# F# F# G G G F# D F# D.

peter says:

greed from larikin music

if larikin music purchased the song in 1990 and men at work used the riff in 1980 this should not give them any copyright rights as they were not the original owners at that time.
and why did it take so long for larrikin music to work out that there was a similarity .
i knew of the similarity when the song came outeven a deaf man could hear that one.
and i do belive that larrikin knew as well and were buying time to then go for damages

Anne says:

Now Greg Ham is dead - Shame Larrikin

Yesterday Greg Ham from Men At Work was found dead in his home in Australia. Today, it has been reported that Greg was struggling with the court case decision. The total greed of Larrikin Music (who purchased the rights many years after Down Under became a hit) now looks like it might have contributed toward Greg’s untimely death. I’m concerned that when the Down Under song is played when when reporting this news, Larrikin will be receiving further royalties. Perhaps the song shouldn’t be played during tributes to Greg preventing Larrikin making even more money!!! There is a huge difference between the law and what is morally right.

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