The copyright saga surrounding classroom favourite Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree and mega-selling Men At Work's Down Under (or more specifically it's flute line) has ignited discussion in the Australian music industry and its listeners.
Whether the court finding that Men At Work "borrowed" unfairly from Kookaburra is just or not (and Musicology personally thinks it's not), it isn't the first time musicians have been taken to court for allegedly stealing other people's songs, riffs or ideas.
Here are just five examples of potential (and actual) musical theft:
My Sweet Lord
GEORGE Harrison must have been on cloud nine when, less than a year after the break-up of The Beatles, had a number one hit on his hands with this ode to Krishna before any of his old band mates had topped the charts with their own solo stuff. His mood would have soured somewhat just months later when he was sued by Bright Tunes Music, who had recently taken ownership of The Chiffons 1962 doo-wop hit He's So Fine. After five years of legal wrangling, during which time Harrison's people made numerous offers to settle out of court, the judge found the ex-Beatle guilty of "subconscious plagiarism" and ordered him to pay more than half a million dollars to Bright Tunes. While Harrison hadn't deliberately stolen from The Chiffons (he claimed to have been inspired by the '67 gospel tune Oh Happy Day), the judge noted "the two songs were essentially the same, with only minor differences to note and chord" (according to Fairwage Lawyers).
The Old Man Down The Road
JOHN Fogerty has the rare distinction of being taken to court for allegedly plagiarising himself. Due to naivety in his Creedence Clearwater Revival days and a subsequent bad record deal, Fogerty didn't own the rights to the CCR material he wrote. Instead it was owned by Fantasy Records, who epitomised the evilness of record companies in 1985 when they sued Fogerty over his new song The Old Man Down The Road, claiming it was exactly the same as Fogerty's old CCR hit Run Through The Jungle, just with new lyrics. Fogerty played both songs in court to explain the differences and a jury agreed with him, with the judge noting the two songs shared a same style but were still different.
WHEN The Flaming Lips were recording their song Fight Test, they realised it sounded a bit like Cat Stevens' Father & Son, and "we purposefully changed those bits", singer Wayne Coyne told The Guardian. It wasn't enough of a change and soon after Fight Test's release, Stevens' lawyers were knocking on the Oklahoma band's door. "I do see now that it definitely has got some resemblance with the Cat Stevens' song," Coyne said in another interview, but denied purposefully plagiarising Stevens (who now guys by the name Yusuf Islam). The Lips apologised and settled out of court, with Stevens ending up with 75 per cent of Fight Test's royalties and a co-writing credit. "But if anyone wanted to borrow part of a Flaming Lips song, I don't think I'd bother pursuing it. I've got better things to do. Anyway, Cat Stevens is never going to make much money out of us," Coyne added.
Ice Ice Baby
HOW Vanilla Ice thought he could get away with this theft is mind-boggling? The bass and piano of his lone hit Ice Ice Baby were sampled, without permission, from Queen and David Bowie's song Under Pressure, but Mr Ice failed to get permission. This happened in 1990 and came long after US courts had already witnessed several cases discussing the fair use of samples. MC Hammer had already had a hit by sticking Rick James' Superfreak into U Can't Touch This, but he did the right thing and got permission. Ice and his fellow songwriters settled out of court, reportedly handing an undisclosed but massive payment to Bowie and the members of Queen.
THIS isn't a past copyright case like the others mentioned, but bear with us. Alex Lloyd's Hottest 100-topping single Amazing went to court recently when an old mate of his claimed he wrote a chunk of the song's chorus. The claim was thrown out but Musicology has always been amazed (pardon the pun) that Lloyd was never queried by Scottish band Travis for his possible plagiarism of the bridge from their song Driftwood - the middle eight in Amazing has a markedly similar melody and even starts with the same few words. But Travis are no angels either - their track Writing To Reach You has such similar chords to Oasis' Wonderwall (it's even in the same key) that Travis singer Fran Healy threw a wink-and-nudge in the song's fourth line: "And what's a Wonderwall anyway?". Musicology is not trying to do a Spicks & Specks here and inadvertantly start some lawsuits. We're just saying that bits of songs sometimes end up in other songs, accidentally or not. But is it plagiarism?
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