31 Mar 2011

'Kookaburra' riff was ripped off, court confirms

9:58 pm on 31 March 2011

The Australian Federal Court has rejected an appeal against a ruling that the band Men at Work stole a popular folk tune for one of its biggest hits.

Last year the court found that the flute riff from the band's early 1980s hit "Down Under" was unmistakably lifted from "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree".

The band were ordered to pay 5% of their royalties for plagiarising part of the song.

"Down Under" was penned in 1979 but only achieved worldwide success after the flute riff was introduced to the track two years later.

EMI appealed against that decision, arguing that, at most, the riff was a form of tribute, and the similarities between the tunes had gone unnoticed for years.

But a three-judge panel has rejected that argument, ordering EMI to pay court costs for the appeal on top of the millions of dollars in royalties it now owes to Larrikin Music.

Larrikin owns the rights to "Kookaburra", which was written by Melbourne teacher Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guides jamboree in 1934 and has been sung by generations of Australian children ever since.