Larrikin cashing in on Kookaburra from Down Under?

Sunday Herald Sun
Men at Work sued over Down Under
Written by Nui Te Koha and Sue Hewitt

October 12, 2008 12:00am

TWO of Australia’s most loved anthems are locked in a courtroom showdown.

Publishing company Larrikin Music claims Men At Work’s global hit Down Under rips off the popular children’s song, Kookaburra.

"This is a battle between two icons," Larrikin Music Publishing managing director, Norm Lurie, said yesterday.
"We claim the song Down Under contains the ‘Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree’ refrain.
"That refrain is an integral part of Down Under and we are not being compensated for that song.
"The Kookaburra aspect of that song has never been acknowledged."

The matter is scheduled to be heard in the Federal Court in November.

In a statement of claim lodged in court, Larrikin is seeking compensation from Down Under’s songwriters, Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, along with record and entertainment giants Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Sony DADC Australia, EMI Songs Australia and EMI Music Publishing.

In a strange twist to the tale, Mr Lurie said he launched the court fight after an alleged Kookaburra connection was raised on the ABC TV quiz show, Spicks and Specks.
He said the question: ‘What children’s song is contained in the song Down Under?’ was posed on the show, and answered: ‘Kookaburra‘.
"The next day, my email and phone lit up with people asking: ‘Do you know about this?’.

In court documents, Larrikin said Kookaburra was written by Toorak college teacher Marion Sinclair in 1934 for a girl guide jamboree in Melbourne. She signed over her copyright to the Libraries Board of South Australia in 1987, a year before her death, it said. 
In 2000, Larrikin took over the copyright in an agreement backdated to 1990, it said.

Larrikin, in court documents, claimed that in 1981 Hay and Strykert wrote Down Under using a "substantial part of Kookaburra" — the flute section.

In a statement of defence, Sony BMG and Sony DADC said since 1983, when Down Under was the unofficial anthem of Australia’s challenge for the America’s Cup, the song was known.

Sony’s statement said the owners of the Kookaburra copyright should have known Down Under, including the alleged flute rip-off, had been played regularly for nearly 30 years.

Sony BMG said in a statement yesterday: "This is properly a dispute between two rival music publishers, Larrikin and EMI Music Publishing. Sony has, at all times, fulfilled all its obligations."

Music industry commentator Molly Meldrum said: "I used to sing Kookaburra when growing up, but it does not remind me of Down Under.

Men at Work sued over Down Under – Sunday Herald Sun (Oct 12th 2008).

These copyright legal litigations are getting absurd.   

For the majority of Australian children Kookaburra is a popular folk song taught at schools across the country. And it’s not like Down Under has been a secret for the last, what? 27 years!
The song Down Under falls into the Pop Art category, if any song ever did. Down Under is afterall, a song about Australia.  It is a comment on Australian culture, referencing a number of popular cultural icons, to the point it is recognised as an iconic national symbol itself. Regardless of the Kookaburra refrain, Down Under is clearly its own song, an individual creation in it’s own right.
Larrikin did not own the copyright of Kookaburra in 1981 when Down Under was released, and certainly Marion’s estate will not benefit from any court decision as she signed the rights to Kookaburra away in 1987. In fact, Larrikin Music itself was owned and operated by an Australian, Warren Fahey, for Australian recording artists until it was sold to Festival in 1995.

Previous to the Spick and Specks program Larrikin were obviously ignorant of the Kookaburra refrain in Down Under. Larrikin Music have lost no revenue because of Down Under. It’s clear as day that Larrikin are simply trying to cash in. Whatever the result, the only people who are going to make any real money out of this are the legal professionals bantering about this pedantic bullshit.  

So much time and money is wasted in these pointless legal processes.  The courts are a place for justice, not opportunitist motions for profitable gain. We KNOW what the RIGHT result for this court battle should be, but the system is going to allow the charade to play out anyway.

Who are the real larrikins here? The recording industry giants? The courts? The lawyers? Perhaps it is us – the everyday apathetic Aussie – if we start allowing our legal system to languish about with Clayton’s cases like this one.

"Intellectual Property is the oil of the 21st century" – Mark Getty, chairman of Getty Images.

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