Girl Scouts 1, Australian Rockers 0

No it’s not the World Cup. The newest ruling is that the band Men At Work must pay royalties to Larrikin Music, who own the rights to the children’s song, “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree”. They co-opted a few strains of it in their 1983 smash hit “Down Under” and yes, it IS copyrighted. It was written by Australian schoolteacher Marion Sinclair over 70 years ago (Sinclair died in 1988 and the rights were sold to Larrikin.)

The payment–5% of total royalties– has to be a pretty penny. It pays to check on these things. Did you know that “Happy Birthday” has a copyright as well? Technically, if you sing it anywhere where money is changing hands, you could be asked to pony up.

Having written many songs and seen the inequitable payment system send my few performance royalties to the likes of Michael Jackson, I am sympathetic with protection of rights – within reason. Men at Work should pay a license fee to use a song in a multi-million seller. The local Brownie troop? Probably not.

If you want to hear how the tune was embedded in “Down Under”, check out the BBC story here:

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