EMI files "Down Under" royalties appeal

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Record company EMI will appeal against a court ruling that Australian Grammy-award winning band Men at Work stole a section of the famous 1980s hit, “Down Under,” from a popular folk song.

Australia’s Federal Court this month ruled that part of the song’s melody came from the children’s ditty “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree,” written 70 years ago by Australian teacher Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guides competition.

But EMI filed papers on Thursday seeking orders that songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert did not breach copyright with their work, arguing the inclusion of two bars from the popular tune was at most a form of tribute.

EMI said while the similarities “might be amusing or of interest to the highly sensitized or educated musical ear,” they were unlikely to be noticed by an ordinary listener.

“Down Under” has become a de facto anthem for Australians and was a hit in the U.S. charts, with quirky lyrics about Vegemite spread and drugged travelers in a “fried-out Kombi, on a hippie trail, head full of zombie.”

The court’s ruling meant the band and EMI could have to pay millions of dollars in royalties to Kookaburra copyright owners Larrikin Music, who launched the legal case.

Men at Work are the only Australian band to have a No.1 album and single simultaneously in U.S. charts with “Down Under” and the album “Business as Usual.”

The song, about a land Down Under “where beer does flow and men chunder,” was used as a motivator for Australia’s 1983 America’s Cup yachting victory in the United States.

The judge this month ordered both sides to enter mediation on royalty payments and reappear in court on February 25 to discuss whether Larrikin should receive compensation from Hay and Strykert.

Editing by Miral Fahmy