Do They Sound Alike?

Nearly 30 years after it topped the charts, an Australian judge ruled yesterday that the Men at Work song “Down Under” copied the song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.”  The claim revolves around the flute riff from the Men at Work song.  Men at Work now face paying 60% of the song’s income to the rightholders for “Kookaburra.”  Throughout the history of popular music, these kinds of instances have popped up here and there.  The Beach Boys were required to give Chuck Berry writing credit on “Surfin’ USA” when a court ruled that it was a copy of Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.”  Later, George Harrison had to surrender royalties for the song “My Sweet Lord” when a court found that he unintentionally copied The Chiffons’ song “He’s So Fine.”  And, of course, with the rise of sampling in the 1980s and 1990s, determination of what constitutes being copied and what doesn’t became murkier.

What do you think?  Is each of these songs a copy of the other?  What should count as copying?  And what other pop songs sound like previous ones?

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2 Responses

  1. Marc says:

    Last November I wrote a similar situation that happened between Coldplay and Joe Satriani. There are only 12 notes and only so many ways to arrange them. So why don’t some artists give the other musicians that inspired them credit? Simple answer, money.

  2. Ray Schuck says:


    I had forgotten about your post about that and remembered it when you mentioned it. I should have built off that for this one. I think as the music industry goes forward these are going to be continuing questions that will take some complex and difficult answers.

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