Kookaburra sits on an electric wire..

I remember back in primary school kids would often sing along to this song with their own lyrics, often ending it in fits of laughter.

“Kookaburra sits on the electric wire, jumping up and down with his pants on fire!”

Little did we know that we were, in fact, committing a copyright infringement. I mean, we were 5, we ran around saying jingle bells and batman smells and pretending we were teenaged mutant ninja turtles!

Kookaburra was a song created by a teacher, Marion Sinclair, in 1932. It was then entered into a competition in 1934 with the proceeds of the winning song going towards the purchase of camping grounds. The song rights were given to Larrikin Music, who still hold the copyrights to the song many years after Sinclair’s death in 1988. In 1980 the band ‘Men at work’ wrote the song ‘Down Under’ with a riff within the song that was believed to be a direct rip off, of the song ‘Kookaburra’, and in 2009 Larrikin Music took the band to court for infringements on the copyrights of the song. Larrikin won, and the band was forced to pay the company royalties backdated to 2002. Despite appeals the it was concluded that the bands song did have a very clear similarity and so the appeals too were lost. Link to the article

You be the Judge.

Now this is a well known band, and a record company going head to head over a single popular children’s song. But what about the everyday youtuber who loves to create parodies of famous songs? Or the video of the cute baby dancing to Beyonce’s ‘all the single ladies’? Well, according to the video Youtube has produced using some rather funny looking (and a little cute) puppets,

Parodies are ok, but the baby dancing clip is not. However, it is up the the person/company who owns the copyrights to the song to put forward an infringement notice. Seems a little silly doesn’t it? Someone who is intentionally using the music of a popular song simply adding their own words, or even using it to ‘take the piss’ out of the singer/songwriter is protected, but the mother who filmed her child having fun dancing to her favorite song is in the wrong.

Now there are ways around the copyright laws. In the case of those who have chosen to do youtube reviews of various games that they play, you simply need to send the gaming company a letter requesting permission to use their content in your video, explain what you do, and make sure you mention that you intend to use these reviews in order to gain profit. Once permission is given, then you are free to use their content, or you may be given permission to use a certain percentage of the content. Either way, once permission is given, the content is free for you to use. Should the gaming company then try and hit you with an infringement notice for using their content, you can counter it and (in majority of cases) you will win and will not be made to take down the content.

This is all quite confusing, and admittedly getting my head around it all has been hard. Im still not sure I have got it right. Even the use of the puppets left me with multiple questions. Copyright laws are there to protect the artist (apparently), but the copyright is only as strong as the person who is using is behind it. If you don’t have the funds to take on a record company giant who blatantly rips off the song you personally wrote,sang and uploaded to youtube, then there is little chance anything can/will be done. It is a sad reality. I hope that the little person fights it and wins, but I would imagine it would certainly be a uphill, and very expensive battle.

And I shall just put this here …because I love Johnny, not because it has anything to do with copyright laws


3 thoughts on “Kookaburra sits on an electric wire..

  1. It’s fantastic you examined copyright issues from a legal perspective and used the Larrikin case to highlight possible outcomes. I researched into other cases involving copyright law and found this document: http://www.13wentworthselbornechambers.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/copyrightlawandpolicyupdate.pdf, from Sydney law firm 13 Wentworth Selborne. It breakdowns the different perspectives of Copyright law, from defendants and prosecutors, in an easy consumable read for young lawyers. It also discussed the crucial element of why the ‘Down Under’ song lost the case: it took a substantial part from the copyrighted work (2 bars of the 4 bars), “even though the Kookaburra melody was only a small part of the Men At Work song.” This is very similar to “Idea/expression dichotomy”, i.e. the Kookaburra song could be called so simple, that allowing it copyright protection, will protect the idea (concept) itself, and not how it’s expressed. Which means anything similar to it could be challenged, regardless of its complexity or similarity. Which is scary.


  2. Pingback: Mix and Remix | The Pink Protagonist

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