Men At Work man comments on the Kookaburra dispute

By | Published on Monday 20 June 2011

Men At Work

Men At Work’s Colin Hay has spoken to about the legal battle his band found themselves in recently regarding the flutey bit from their biggest track ‘Down Under’.

As much previously reported, the publishing company who own the rights in ‘Kookaburra Sitting In An Old Gum Tree’ accused the band – 28 years after they released ‘Down Under’ – of infringing copyright for including the famous flute riff in their track, said riff coming from, or very influenced by, the famous Aussie children’s rhyme, which is often associated with the Girl Guides movement.

After some debate as to whether Larrikin Music actually owned the copyrights in the ‘Kookaburra’ song, the publisher eventually won their infringement lawsuit, though only winning a 5% share of ‘Down Under’ royalties, after originally demanding 60%.

Hay tells that, while he still disagrees with the court ruling that his band’s use of the flute riff was copyright infringement, most of his resentment towards Larrikin is based not on the fact they made a claim, but that they originally asked for 60% of royalties because, he says, had they asked for 5% at the outset there’s a chance an agreement could have been reached without a long drawn out and very expensive legal battle.

Says Hay: “What I really regret in looking back on it is that feeling that I always have that [the court battle] was avoidable. The huge cost of litigation for three years was probably avoidable if they hadn’t come in wanted 60% of ‘Down Under’, which is a ludicrous amount to want in the first place, and in my view completely opportunistic”.

He continued: “When you think of it, even though I don’t think an infringement did take place, if you look at 5% it is a much more reasonable number than 60%. It’s not like if somebody asks for 60% you can say ‘well that’s in the ballpark’. You have to defend it. and although they won it was a hollow victory at best. It was just that they lost less than us because there are still huge costs and what they got is something that cost them a lot for relatively little gain”.