Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Men At Work, neck deep in Kookaburra shit.

I have no clue why there are no posts here. I'm sure I had something to say at some point over the past week. I couldn't possibly have spent all my free time playing Assassins Creed II...

I have something I'm feeling a bit unsure of and need to have a discussion about.

Have you folks heard that the band Men At Work are being sued? Because the flute part of the song Land Down Under has a some notes from the famous Aussie song Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gumtree. The song was a hit in 1981. They (They being the people who now own the rights to Kookaburra) didn't discover the plagiarism until last year when it was mentioned on an Aussie gameshow as similar and once that was revealed, they got the lawyers involved.

Over that wee bit.

So now I come to the dilemma. Plagiarism is bad. I agree 100%. But does the fact that this song has been listened to for over 20 years and no one noticed the similarities - even in Australia where these songs are sung all the time - why sue now? To what end? Well obviously the end is money. It's always money. Reputation be dashed, fuck you - give us our money! watch the wee news show where the history is explained.

So Ms. Sinclair is no longer with us - I just can't understand the need to sue. As far as I know the band aren't together anymore.

sure I can understand that they've earned royalties for this song. Has that well run dry? Have they sold the rights? Does the rest of the content not matter? Does that snippet of music take away all the originality of the whole song?

When I think about Vanilla Ice and the Ice Ice Baby rip off of Bowie/Queen- that made me mad. that was so obviously stolen. This MAW one is innocuous. And yet I cannot justify it to myself that just because it's only a little bit stolen that makes it any less of a crime. I also have to remove my genuine affection for MAW from the debate, which is difficult.

Sure punish them. but does it have to be so harsh? Why not just do a charity tour and donate all the proceeds to the Girl Scouts? The song was written for them, annoying, petty, money grabbing music company.

What's kind of bugged me since, is Colin Hay has been saying they absolutely didn't rip Kookaburra. Sure the whole flute part isn't a direct rip, only a minute portion (I'm justifying again) and Hay is saying it was not intentional:

"When Men At Work released the song Down Under through CBS Records, (now Sony Music), in 1982, it became extremely successful. It was and continues to be played countless times all over the world, and it is no surprise that in more than 20 years, no one noticed the reference to Kookaburra. There are reasons for this. It was inadvertent, naive, unconscious, and by the time Men At Work recorded the song, it had become unrecognisable."

I don't think that statement does him any credit, unfortunately.

I worry what the financial consequence will be for Hay. 27 years back pay? If it were mine, sure I'd want it, no matter how popular the famous person who stole it was. Yet, I adore him. Also, if he lives in Melbourne, I may have to stalk him. I'm sure he'd appreciate it. He was in Scrubs and everything.

What do you think? I'm so obviously biased.

*Guides. It's the Girl Guides. but it's the same as the Scouts only they still wear Brownie uniforms.


jomamma said...

Good grief! I went to a Comedy Club once and the guy stood up on the stage singing song after song, changing only the words, but keeping the tune the same. They were all popular songs and I think the tune came from someone like Bach or Mozart. Someone famous... and LONG gone, gone too long to start a law suit.

Maybe there should be a time limit on such things. If you weren't paying attention in the past 10 years, too bad so sad.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to side with Men At Work on this one. The damn song is over 20 years old! That's ridiculous!

tornwordo said...

It doesn't seem like 11 notes constitute plagiarism much at all.

Is it possible the 11 word sentence above has already been written somewhere? It's possible, and yet, I didn't steal it. I vote for Men at Work.

Sy said...

Well, I was on MAW's side until I read what Hay said: "by the time Men At Work recorded the song, it had become unrecognisable" - which means that when they started with it, it was recognizable.

I personally never heard that in the song. Now Vanilla Ice - yeah that was a total rip off!

Think about plagiarism, does that mean that no one can use words or a phrase previously written by another? We would never be able to ever write again! Plagiarism is all about stealing an idea or taking another's work as your own - I do not think that MAW was in anyway stealing the idea or pretending to be that other work. Apparently even the own writer of the "victimized" song couldn't even tell it themselves!