I LIVE for this kind of news, even when it’s ridiculous like this is:
A music publisher that has accused Australian band Men at Work of stealing the melody to their 1980s smash hit “Down Under” from a campfire song won the first stage of its lawsuit on Thursday seeking royalties from the Aussie anthem.
First off, who knew that “Kookaburra” was actually copyrighted? In my mind, that’s a bit like saying that the publishing rights to “Kumbaya” were owned by Michael Jackson. I was a bit traumatized by this song as a child when I found out that gumdrops did NOT grow on trees. Leave it to the Aussies to portray their country as being even MORE loveable than it already is!
The bigger question here is about how different one melody has to be from another melody to not infringe on copyrights. The whole “My Sweet Lord”/”He’s So Fine” lawsuit from 1971 was one of the first cases I ever encountered as a young music fan that made me question the sanity of people in the industry. Long story short, George Harrison was accused of ripping off “He’s So Fine” in his 1971 hit “My Sweet Lord”, and he lost. This was a big deal, because he was a Beatle, and the Beatles were still seen as other-worldly. Besides, the song was a favorite of mine early on (I loved the cover of Harrison’s album, and it was a double, which meant fold-out cover), and for anyone to malign a song I loved was grounds for…something. The history of this lawsuit is just amazing, and to read it is to read the history of several musical legacies (Beatles, Doo-Wop, Allen Klein) all colliding in an amazingly drawn-out legal dispute that just shows how much greed has ruled much of the music industry.
I really don’t know what to make of the Men at Work lawsuit, although I hope it can be resolved amicably. You have to imagine that the vast majority of that money has already been spent, and that there has to be SOME statute of limitations on what can be recovered 28 years later. In the meantime, here’s the source of the controversy…