Men at Work accused of stealing riff from campfire song
Group's 1983 hit Down Under is Australia's unofficial anthem
Australian pop icons Men at Work are fighting accusations that a riff in their 1980s smash hit Down Under was snatched from a popular children's song.
Publisher Larrikin Music is suing Song BMG Music Entertainment and EMI Songs Australia for compensation from the royalties the song earned its writers, Colin Hay and Ron Strykert.
Larrikin claims the flute riff was copied from the refrain in a 1934 children's song, Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, written by Melbourne music teacher Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guides competition.
The song about the kookaburra, a kingfisher native to Australia, has become a Girl Guides campfire standby throughout the English-speaking world.
Larrikin claims it bought the copyright after Sinclair's death in 1988.
But Sony and EMI argued in Australia's federal court in Sydney this week that Sinclair gave the copyright to the Girl Guides Association of Victoria when she submitted the song to the competition, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Lawyer David Catterns, representing Sony and EMI, said competition details printed in a circular and in the Girl Guide magazine Matilda stated that all material entered would become property of the Girl Guides.
Judge Peter Jacobson is expected to hand down a decision on who owns the copyright within a week. If he decides Larrikin can assert copyright, it will be up to a further court hearing to decide whether Hay and Strykert copied the riff.
Down Under and the album it was on, Business as Usual, reached No. 1 on the U.S., British and Australian pop charts in 1983.
The song remains an unofficial anthem of Australia and was ranked fourth in a 2001 music industry survey of the best Australian songs.
With files from The Associated Press