Men at Work vs. Marion Sinclair


My friend Mike just brought this to my attention via an AP news report.

I’m not sure I even agree with these similarities but the judge has ruled. Australian rock band Men at Work has plagiarized the Australian nursery rhyme “Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree“.

SYDNEY (AP) – A judge ordered Australian band Men at Work on Tuesday to hand over a portion of the royalties from their 1980s hit “Down Under,” after previously ruling its distinctive flute riff was copied from a children’s campfire song. . . “Kookaburra” was written more than 70 years ago by Australian teacher Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guides competition, and the song about the native Australian bird has been a favorite around campfires from New Zealand to Canada…

The following “Kookaburra” recording is from this collection of nursey ryhmes.

Marion Sinclair - "Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree" (1934)

Men at Work - "Down Under" (1981)

3/16/2015 UPDATE:
Here are some interesting quotes from Wikipedia as well as the sad news of Greg Ham’s death in 2012. Ham performed the famous flute solo in “Down Under”

In 2009, music publisher Larrikin Music, then headed by Norman Lurie (now retired), sued Men at Work and their record label EMI for plagiarism, alleging that the flute riff copied the 1934 nursery rhyme “Kookaburra”, to which they owned the publishing rights. The Federal Court of Australia ruled that “Down Under” did infringe the copyright of “Kookaburra” and awarded Larrikin 5% of the song’s royalties backdated to 2002. Several appeals by EMI and Men at Work were unsuccessful. In an interview with The Age newspaper, Ham said that he was deeply affected by the judgment and felt it had tarnished his reputation, saying: “I’m terribly disappointed that that’s the way I’m going to be remembered—for copying something.

Ham was found dead on 19 April 2012 at his home in Carlton North, Melbourne, having suffered a fatal heart attack.

It is believed that the recent lawsuit of Larrikin Music vs. Men At Work was a contributing factor to his ill health.

source: Wikipedia

Facebook Comments
(Visited 1,308 times, 1 visits today)

21 Replies to “Men at Work vs. Marion Sinclair”

  1. John

    Wow. That’s one ridiculous judgmental. I easily hear the connection (though I never noticed the flute melody at all before!), but it’s much of more of a fleeting reference to song of national identity than it is copyright infringement. The Sinclair estate lawyers must be awfully good or Men At Work’s awfully bad.

  2. Dissonance

    It’s rare for a song to still be under copyright after 70 years, though maybe copyright laws are different down under.

    1. Suzanne

      The copyright is from the time it was written until 70 years after the death of the original writer. Originally in Australia it was 50 years after death but changed to 70 to comply with US copyright laws.

  3. Mina

    Oh God, this is the answer! I always thought “Down Under” sounded like something I’d heard before, but could never figure it out, and anyone I asked just dismissed me, thinking it sounded familiar because it was a popular song… at last! Vindication!

    Great site, by the way– glad I stumbled upon it!

  4. Devon

    The people who sued were actually not the Sinclair estate. Marion did not care that the melody was the same and both Marion and Men at Work poked fun at the similarity (or, “identical-ness”) in their performances. When Marion died, her family still didn’t care. When they sold the rights to the song, though, the company that bought them did so purely so they could sue Men at Work, which they did, and that’s where the judge’s ruling came from not. NOT from the Sinclairs.

  5. Dissonance

    I composed a children’s suite for woodwind quintet. I intended to arrange Kookaburra for one movement. After several months, Music Sales Group was going to grant me permission with restrictions. The restrictions, however, were so strict that the piece could never be performed. I tried to explain to them how classical music works, then they stopped communicating with me.

      1. Dissonance

        Keith, I have the correspondence that was meant for me. Is there a reason you would like to see it?

        1. Keith Post author

          I’ve been getting more and more “inside” information from various artists lately. I will most likely be developing some more editorial to go along with my normal posts. If there’s anything you’d feel comfortable sharing for publication that would be great. Otherwise, no big deal!

    1. Keith Post author

      Terrible news Travis.

      I’m a bit surprised that this case actually affected him so deeply. As I said in the original post, I don’t even know why this was even in court.

      “A friend who found Ham’s body said he hadn’t been the same since 2010, when a court ruled that his signature flute riff from the song “Down Under” had been stolen from a classic campfire song.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *