From different sides of the globe come two cases indicating that royalties and copyrights aren’t all that clear cut.
From Sydney, Australia, comes word that a judge’s decision has cleared the way for a music publisher to file lawsuits over Men At Work’s 1982 No. 1 hit “Down Under.”
Larrikin Music claims the Men At Work ditty copies the refrain to “Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree” written in 1934 by Marion Sinclair for a competition held by Girl Guides, an organization similar to Girl Scouts.
However, lawyers for Men At Work’s record labels – Sony BMG in the U.S. and EMI Songs in Australia – originally said Larrikin wasn’t in the position to sue anyone over “Kookaburra,” claiming Girls Guides, not the publishing company, was the rightful owner.
Now a federal judge has ruled that Larrikin does indeed own “Kookaburra,” thus backing up the publishing company’s claim it purchased the rights to the song after Sinclair’s death. By establishing Larrikin’s ownership, the decision allows the company to sue anyone it thinks infringed upon the song.
Like Sony, EMI and, quite possibly, Men At Work. Larrikin is suing the labels for breach of copyright and compensation from royalties paid to the band.
“Down Under” hit No. 1 on the Australian, Brit and U.S. charts in 1982, and introduced non-Australians to the culinary joy of Vegemite sandwiches. Colin Hay and Ron Strykert share writing credits.
The week’s second copyright decision hales from London and it’s over Procol Harum’s 1967 hit, “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”
Judges in the House of Lords have ruled that Matthew Fisher is entitled to a share of the song’s royalties. Fisher played keyboards for Procol Harum, and is responsible for the song’s famous organ introduction. “A White Shade Of Pale” originally credited Harum’s lead vocalist Gary Brooker for the melody and the band’s lyricist, Keith Reid, for the words.
Fisher won authorship co-credit in 2006 with a High Court judge ruling he should receive 40 percent of the song’s royalties, but in 2008 the Court of Appeal ruled Fisher should receive no payments for the song because he had waited too long to make his claim.
That decision was struck down this week with the Law Lords saying there is no time limit on copyright claims.
But there is a condition. Fischer can only claim future, not past royalties.
Fisher, who left the band in 1969 and is now a computer programmer, said he was delighted with the court’s decision, saying the legal battle was “never about money.”