Men at Work goes down under
The Australian band Men at Work have lost their final court bid to prove they did not steal the distinctive flute riff of their 1980s hit Down Under from a children's campfire song. The High Court of Australia denied the band's bid to appeal a federal court judge's earlier ruling that the group had copied the signature flute melody of "Down Under" from the song "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree."
Kookaburra, a song about Australia's famous bird of the same name, was written more than 70 years ago by Australian teacher Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guides competition. The song went on to become a favorite around campfires from New Zealand to Canada.
Last year, Federal Court Justice Peter Jacobson ruled that the "Down Under" flute riff replicated a substantial part of Sinclair's song. The judge later ordered Men at Work's recording company, EMI Songs Australia, and "Down Under" songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert to pay 5 percent of royalties earned from the song since 2002 and from its future earnings. Record label EMI argued the writers did not plagiarise because the inclusion of two bars from the tune was a tribute.
The court didn't specify what the five per cent penalty translates to in dollars. Lawyers for Men at Work's recording companies maintained the band hadn't copied anything, and vowed to fight the ruling. But the High Court's decision ends the band's chance to appeal.