Derivative Work Copyright Down Under to go to Court

11 10 2008

Recent allegations have surfaced concerning the song Down Under by Men At Work which arguably includes a melody taken from an earlier song Kookaburra by Marion Sinclair.

See,23599,24480872-2,00.html for more details.

This type of occurrence is surprisingly common. sometimes a few bars are included in a song as a homage or salute to an earlier work, or as a joke. Sometimes it happens subconsciously.

It will be interesting to see how the Australian courts view the appropriate division of wealth generated by the later song.

Naomi Shemer wrote an Israeli hit Lu Yehi, which she explained at the time, was inspired by the Beatles blockbuster Let it Be. The melody of the Israeli song is different but clearly related. The title is an exact translation, and the lyrics are similarly nostalgic but have totally different motifs. Should McCartney get royalties from Shemer’s work? Maybe he does.

What about films? Elvis Presley did a Punch & Judy gag that was taken straight out of a Marx brother’s movie. Come to that, I think Bugs Bunny owes a lot to Groucho Marx.

Mel Brooks was great at paying tribute to his own earlier work. In Robin Hood Men in Tights, there was a black sheriff of Nottingham (well it worked in Blazing Saddles), and also the line it’s good to be a king that we first heard is History of the World.  Many times, motifs, images and scenes are inspired on or pay tribute to the works of others. Should the earlier creations be entitled to some copyright royalty?

The Jewish tradition sees acknowledging the basis of ideas as being very important, but sees tunes as highly mobile, and there are instances of synagogue tunes (eg Leoli’s Yigdal) finding its way into the Christian Hymn Book.

This author thinks that copyright law has gone too far, but is interested to see wha the Australian court will say on the topic.

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