“Where women glow and men plunder…” are some of the iconic lyrics of Men At Work’s hallowed song ‘Down Under’. Down Under was a number one hit in the US, UK and Australia and is practically a secondary national anthem for Australians abroad. However, speaking of plundering, this classic song may in fact include a ‘substantial part’ of another Australian song.
In February 2008, Larrikin Music filed a lawsuit against Men at Work band members Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, as well as Sony and EMI, alleging that Down Under contained a stolen flute ‘riff’ that came from the song ‘Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree’. It is rumoured that the catalyst for Larrikin’s claim was a Spicks & Specks trivia question which ‘outed’ Down Under as containing the Kookaburra riff. It is unclear whether Men at Work are denying that Down Under contains a substantial part of the Kookaburra song.
The Kookaburra song was apparently written in the 1930’s by a woman named Marion Sinclair and submitted to a Girl Guides song & arts competition. Larrikin claim that they purchased the rights to the Kookaburra song in 1988 after Ms Sinclair’s death. However Men at Work , Sony and EMI claim that as Ms Sinclair wrote the song for a Girl Guide competition, she gave all copyright in the song to the Girl Guides Association of Victoria.
On 24 June 2009, Justice Jacobson of the Federal Court ordered that the proceeding be split into separate questions. His Honour will first determine whether Larrikin does in fact own copyright in the Kookaburra song, before determining all other issues. The matter was partially heard on the 26th of June 2009, and judgment was reserved.