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Down Under (song) facts for kids

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"Down Under"
Down under men at work australia single.jpg
7" Australian single
Single by Men at Work
from the album Business as Usual
B-side "Crazy" (AUS/NA)
"Helpless Automaton" (EU)
Released 2 November 1981
Genre
Length 3:42
Label Columbia
Songwriter(s)
  • Colin Hay
  • Ron Strykert
Producer(s) Peter McIan
Men at Work singles chronology
"Who Can It Be Now?"
(1981)
"Down Under"
(1981)
"Be Good Johnny"
(1982)

"Down Under" is a song recorded by Australian rock band Men at Work. It was originally released in 1980 as the B-side to their first local single titled "Keypunch Operator", released before the band signed with Columbia Records. Both early songs were written by the group's co-founders, Colin Hay and Ron Strykert. The early version of "Down Under" has a slightly different tempo and arrangement from the later Columbia release. The most well known version was then released on Columbia in 1981 as the third single from their debut album Business as Usual (1981).

The hit song went to number one in their home country of Australia in December 1981, and then topped the New Zealand charts in February 1982. The song topped the Canadian charts in October 1982. In the United States, the song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on 6 November 1982 at No. 79, and reached No. 1 in January 1983 where it spent four non-consecutive weeks. It eventually sold over two million copies in the US alone. Billboard ranked it at No. 4 for 1983.

In the UK, the song topped the charts in January and February 1983, and is the only Men at Work song to make the UK top 20. The song also went to No. 1 in Denmark, Ireland, Italy and Switzerland, and was a top 10 hit in many other countries. "Down Under" is perceived as a patriotic song in Australia; it remains popular and is often played at sporting events.

In January 2018, as part of Triple M's "Ozzest 100", the 'most Australian' songs of all time, "Down Under" was ranked number 2.

Copyright lawsuit

In 2007, on the ABC-TV quiz show Spicks and Specks the question was posed "What children's song is contained in the song 'Down Under'?" The answer, "Kookaburra", a song whose rights were owned by Larrikin Music, resulted in phone calls and emails to Larrikin the next day. Larrikin Music subsequently decided to take legal action against Hay and Strykert, the song's writers.

Sections of the flute part of the recording of the song were found to be based on "Kookaburra", written in 1932 by Marion Sinclair. In fact, producer Peter McIan remembered the inclusion of the melody being a "musical joke" by flautist Greg Ham – he can even be seen sitting on a gum tree in the song's music video while playing the riff. Sinclair died in 1988 and the rights to the Kookaburra song were deemed to have been transferred to publisher Larrikin Music on 21 March 1990. In the United States, the rights are administered by Music Sales Corporation in New York City.

In June 2009, 28 years after the release of the recording, Larrikin Music sued Men at Work for copyright infringement, alleging that part of the flute riff of "Down Under" was copied from "Kookaburra". The counsel for the band's record label and publishing company (Sony BMG Music Entertainment and EMI Songs Australia) claimed that, based on the agreement under which the song was written, the copyright was actually held by the Girl Guides Association. On 30 July, Justice Peter Jacobson of the Federal Court of Australia made a preliminary ruling that Larrikin did own copyright on the song, but the issue of whether or not Hay and Strykert had plagiarised the riff was set aside to be determined at a later date.

On 4 February 2010, Justice Jacobson ruled that Larrikin's copyright had been infringed because "Down Under" reproduced "a substantial part of 'Kookaburra'".

When asked how much Larrikin would be seeking in damages, Larrikin's lawyer Adam Simpson replied: "anything from what we've claimed, which is between 40 and 60 per cent, and what they suggest, which is considerably less." In court, Larrikin's principal Norman Lurie gave the opinion that, had the parties negotiated a licence at the outset as willing parties, the royalties would have been between 25 and 50 per cent. On 6 July 2010, Justice Jacobson handed down a decision that Larrikin receive 5% of royalties from 2002. In October 2011, the band lost its final court bid when the High Court of Australia refused to hear an appeal.

Until this high-profile case, the standing of "Kookaburra" as a traditional song combined with the lack of visible policing of the song's rights by its composer had led to the general public perception that the song was within the public domain.

The revelation of "Kookaburra"'s copyright status, and more so the pursuit of royalties from it, has generated a negative response among sections of the Australian public. In response to unsourced speculation of a Welsh connection, Dr Rhidian Griffiths pointed out that the Welsh words to the tune were published in 1989, and musicologist Phyllis Kinney stated neither the song's metre nor its lines were typical Welsh.

Colin Hay has since suggested that the deaths of his father, Jim, in 2010, and of Men at Work flute player Greg Ham in 2012 were directly linked to the stress of the court case.

Colin Hay version

A new version of the song was produced by Colin Hay, coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of the original's release. Requested by Telstra for use in an Australian advertising campaign during the 2012 Summer Olympics period, the song was available through iTunes on 31 July 2012.

In the new version, Hay intentionally changed the flute part that caused the copyright lawsuit.

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