Australia's Men at Work accused of plagiarism

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The Independent Culture

Lawyers Tuesday accused 1980s rock band Men at Work of stealing a "quintessentially Australian" flute riff for their iconic hit "Down Under" at the opening of a Federal Court copyright battle.

Music company Larrikin say the rock band plagiarised a "distinct and memorable" melody from their children's song "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree" for their 1981 worldwide chart-topper.

The schoolyard tune was as Australian as the Vegemite sandwich spread, driving through the Outback, or listening to a Kookaburra laugh, said Larrikin's lawyer Richard Lancaster.

"Down Under is an affectionate celebration of, and a witty commentary on, some of the icons of Australian culture," he said, according to the AAP newswire.

"It was no accident, then, that the references to Australian icons did not stop with the lyrics or with the images ... (they) occurred musically."

Widely regarded as Australia's unofficial anthem and a jukebox staple the world over, the Men at Work song was a worldwide hit in the early 1980s, becoming the theme tune for the victorious Australian team in the 1983 edition of yachting's Americas Cup.

It featured at the close of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and pays tribute to Vegemite sandwiches and a land where "women glow and men plunder".

It is a favourite in pubs and karaoke bars across the English-speaking world.

The band's lawyer David Catterns said the notes, key and harmony were different, and questioned why, if there was such a strong similarity, Larrikin did not notice until 2007.

Federal Court judge Peter Jacobson ruled in July that Larrikin did in fact own the rights to the "Kookaburra" score, which was penned by teacher Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guides Jamboree in 1934, clearing the way for the Federal Court hearing.

If successful, the company will be entitled to untold thousands in unpaid royalties, and compensation for breach of copyright from both Men at Work and music labels Sony BMG and EMI.