Music Copyright QUESTION

Two of my favorite topics are music and copyright law. When they converge, I’m utterly fascinated. Ann from New Zealand wrote about Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree, a children’s song I learned from a songbook in my elementary school. What I discovered from Ann was that the song was not in the public domain, as I had assumed, but was written in 1934 and is still under copyright. More to the point, the Australian group Men at Work have been successfully sued for lifting bits of Kookaburra and putting it on their 1982 international hit Down Under, where I first heard about vegemite.

But the theft wasn’t discovered until a judge on some TV music show misidentified Down Under as Kookaburra fairly recently. I find this hysterical, because I recognized the flute bit as a swipe of Kookaburra right away, but I didn’t think it was substantial enough to be a copyright violation, if in fact it was taken from a copyrighted song.

I hear a lot of licks off records, especially on live albums. In fact, Martin Mull did a song called Licks (Off of Records), parodying the trend.

Eric Clapton famously lifted Blue Moon and put it in the guitar solo on Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, apparently without repercutions. Likewise, Bill Cosby swiped Purple Haze for the title song from his Hooray For The Salvation Army Band! album, apparently without legal action.

What songs have you heard that seem to steal from other songs without attribution, either music or lyrics? Note that Weird Al and MC Hammer, among others, always credited their sources.

0 thoughts on “Music Copyright QUESTION”

  1. The one that I can’t ever get out of my mind, after reading a review where the reviewer pointed it out, was Rush stealing a bit of the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” on their song “Red Tide”. It’s there, and the boys of Rush have said how the Police, amongst other bands getting their start after them, influenced them along the way, but obviously it wasn’t enough to get them sued for copyright.


  2. How about, “I want A New Drug” by Huey Lewis, and “Ghostbusters’ by Ray Parker. And did you ever see “Love in Vain’ By Jagger/Richards on the Let It Bleed album, Robert Johnson sang the same song six years before Mick Jagger was born.


  3. Thanks for writing this post.

    I was researching on the only Chinese song, Rose, Rose my love that became known universally. It was made popular by Frankie Laine in 1951. I suppose the original people should be happy that it is made well known.

    (Wilfrid Thomas / Chris Langdon)
    (Based on the traditional Chinese Folk Song,
    “Meigui Meigui Wo Ai Ni” – Music: Chen Gexin)


  4. A copyright convention being pushed (one is tempted to say, shoved down our throats) by the United States and the European Union would make nearly all borrowing, even if it’s what’s now called “fair use” in the US, a crime. Among other things, it would have the effect of outlawing “mashups”.

    Sometimes it’s hard to decided which American entertainment industry—music, television or movies—is the most stupid in their blind pursuit of absolute copyright, but personally I give the edge to the music industry,


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