Saturday, December 5, 2009


Back in preschool, we used to sing this song. Didn't find out what a kookaburra actually was until much later (assumed it was a bird, of course, but could never be sure). Recently, this childhood song to so many has been at the center of an intellectual property battle. That's right. And I wonder what'll be next... Ring Around the Rosy?

So, in 1981, Men at Work's "Down Under" became an international pop hit. Twenty eight years later, contestants on an Australian music-themed TV quiz show called Spicks and Specks were asked to guess what children's song "Down Under" contained. No one could figure it out. But guess which one it was. Yep. After the TV show aired, Larrikin Music Publishing filed suit against the two Men at Work members who wrote "Down Under." The "Kookaburra Song" was originally written by a Melbourne schoolteacher in 1934, for the Australian version of the Girl Scouts. According to Adam Simpson, who represents Larrikin Music Publishing in the lawsuit,

" 'Kookaburra' is a copyright work, just like any copyright work, and there are laws surrounding how it can be used." And I thought Girl Scouts were all about sharing. My bad.

Simpson claims that the laws governing fair use in the US are more restrictive in Australia and he's got quite an argument for showing that "Kookaburra" is used significantly in"Down Under." I'll let him explain:

" 'Kookaburra' is a four-bar song. Over half that song is used in 'Down Under,' which is the test of law."

Wow. Two whole bars. What a crime. Simpson says the publisher should collect royalties whenever the Men at Work song is played. Apparently, this happens more frequently than you might expect: Simpson says it's often heard in advertising and in such films as Finding Nemo, Kangaroo Jack and a Crocodile Dundee film (might I point out that the song heard is "Down Under" and not "Kookaburra," but apparently, it's all the same). At the moment, Strykert and Hay, from Men at Work, receive 100 percent of the royalties from "Down Under."

Most Australians think this is ridiculous, but when asked if the lawsuit is really worthwhile, Simpson simply replies, "Yes, it is, and I can't go into any details because — the financials, of course, are still very confidential." Oh yes, but of course. The financials.

What I would like to know is: who was the guy who wrote the question for that quiz show?

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