Another week gone, another week started, my dear readers, and at the cusp of this one I’ve got a treat for you. Longtime Correspondent and friend of the blog Jo Fergus of Environauts and ThumbShift has graciously agreed to come on board as an Official State of Affairs Guest Blogger. In the interest of giving you something to read that isn’t my shit day in and day out, I’m going to be inviting several friends of the blog to guest write here at the mighty SoA, and Jo has the distinction of being the first of this new wave. Give it a gander and if you like what he has to say, go check out where he can usually be found.
So without further ado…
I give you the first-ever Official SoA Guest Blog!
As many have already heard, the Aussie 80’s band “Men At Work” are in the process of having their collective asses exhumed from the sand dunes of time, so that they can be sodomized by a publishing company called Larrikin Music. Specifically, so that Larrikin’s lawyers can excise their pound of flesh, amounting to as much as 60% of the the working Men’s royalties for the song “Down Under”…Which according to a select group of lawyers and other parasites, infringes on the folk song “Kookabura Sits in the Old Gumtree”!
Reams have already been written about this ridiculous claim, that’s been awarded by some Australian judge who probably couldn’t whistle Dixie to save his life (let alone determine and compare musical structure), but we’re not going to turn this into another diatribe against the evils of a world controlled by tone-deaf lawyers.
We’re also not going to make any punny remarks with all those great lyrical references that first helped turn Australia into a pop culture phenomenon back in 1983, long before Mick Dundee’s character (which was written by…Bueller? Anybody?) turned that actor/guy (Paul Hogan) into an international tourism icon. The Media has already had a heyday, shamelessly dropping semi-clever references to those great lyrics, without offering EMI one red cent (of course) under the auspices of “fair use”.
According to this ruling, it seems that EMI (Men At Works label of record) must have been wasting a lot of time trying to convince the court that Larriken could NOT have owned the infringed work when this first came to trial back in June 2009. EMI basically stopped the trial dead in its tracks (pending this latest ruling) because they claimed that proper title to Kookabura had in fact been assigned to the Victorian Girl Guides back in 1934.
What I am compelled to stop and ask is…
Why the hell was EMI Records trying to hide behind the freaking Girl Guides to save “Down Under” from the clutches of greedy Lawyers and Publishers!?!
Larriken maintained that they bought the song (in 1990) from the estate of the original composer Ms. Marion Sinclair (deceased 1988). Sinclair composed Kookabura in about 1934 for a Victorian Girl Guides competition, but EMI failed to demonstrate that the Girl Guides should still have retained ownership according to the terms of their contest submission. More importantly, the entire trial was seemingly hinged on this technicality, and delayed while Larriken had to defend against EMI’s counterclaims, lest the Girl Guides (joined by the Boy Scouts?) rise up and enslave the Music Industry with their unclaimed rights to this, and any number of other campfire songs!
Something tells me that the Girl Guides likely never even appeared on this battlefield with their own army of lawyers, and EMI was left to derail their case all on their own by focusing on this legal side gambit. Surely EMI could have used their musical muscle to clearly demonstrate that a partial section of a flute riff, that only appears in the intro and bridge of the studio recording (not the original composition), is not actually based in the lyrical or melodic structure of Kookabura, and also did not in any way define significant or overall characteristics (lyric, rhythm, melody, harmony) of the SONG “Down Under”. At best the flutey bit from Down Under is a tiny ode to Sinclair’s childrens song, and should be treated like any other example of musicians and composers tipping their hats to each other in their own compositions. Instead this ruling sets (Australian) legal precedent, that cultural and historic Folk references do not in fact belong to the People. On this slippery slope, Artists would theoretically need to try and quantify every micron of their craft and it’s lineage, in order to determine what inspired who, and how much they owed as a result!
Krikey! You’d think that EMI could have afforded to help avoid this quagmire by trotting out a few world-class musical experts to show the differences between these two songs, rather than delaying an entire trial pending a determination on where the Girl Guides stood in the matter of musical copyright, and the origins of folk music.
I wish we had more time to learn about where things went wrong in this trial in the land “Down Under”…I mean Kookabura. But for anyone in a distant time zone, it’s already tomorrow in Australia.
Down there, this story of feckless greed is likely already well played out in the Media, and its carcass has already been carried off into the bush by these craven Dingos, who clearly just wanted an easy feed off the aged carrion of some forgotten 80’s band…Struthe!