A few flute notes does not a lawsuit make

By Clyde Davis: Local columnist

Few flute notes does not a lawsuit make

On the song “Kookaburra” :

“Marion Sinclair was a music teacher at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toorak_College,_Mt_Eliza) Toorak College, a girls’ school in (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melbourne) Melbourne which she had attended as a boarder.

In 1920, she began working with the school’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guides_Australia) Girl Guides company.

One Sunday morning in church, in 1932, Marion Sinclair had a sudden inspiration, and dashed home to write the words down. “Kookaburra” was entered in 1934 into a competition run by the (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scouting_and_Guiding_in_Victoria) Girl Guides Association of Victoria.” (Wikipedia)

On the ‘80’s group, “Men at Work”:

“Men at Work was an Australian reggae-influenced rock band which achieved international success in the 1980s.” (Wikipedia)

What is the connection between Marion Sinclair and Men at Work, besides being Australian?

Hint: If you think that frivolous lawsuits are a United States curiosity, confined only to our continent, you might be glad to know that you are wrong.

Yes, the descendants of Marion Sinclair are suing the Men at Work, claiming that the song “Down Under” uses the tune of “Kookaburra”.

Why they did not do this during the rock song’s popularity, back in the 1980’s, is anybody’s guess. But it occurred to me that maybe at that time, the old lady was still alive and would have chided them for being ridiculous.

Though tone deaf, I can hear songs completely in my head, and being a committed Men at Work fan, it is really easy for me to “hear” that particular song.

Yes, indeed, there is a flute interlude that echoes “Kookaburra”, and it is probably a deliberate tribute to a song which is so identified as “Australian.”

I remember an ethics class I was teaching several years ago, in which we discussed copyright, and somehow got onto the subject of a note sequence that had been borrowed from a Paula Abdul song and placed in a current song. As a musician in the class mentioned, there are only so many combinations of notes that can exist, and I suppose of that number, only so many which are ear-gratifying.

When I hear about crowded court dockets, and busy judges, I cannot help but think that we could save a lot of their time and the attendant waiting time for hearing, by setting some kind of standard for frivolous — dare I say ridiculous — lawsuits.

Blatant stealing of another’s efforts and passing them off as one’s own is clearly an ethical violation. It is, of course, known as plagiarism, and should be decried and dealt with appropriately.

Really, then, where do we draw the line? I think it is clear to anyone with good sense when that line has been crossed, and when a lawsuit is simply frivolous. Like the famous or infamous case where a customer sued McDonalds because she was too clumsy to hold her coffee, lawsuits that make us laugh should be the first line of discard.

As a creative person, I do value my work, and I know I am not alone. I would hate, for example, to see one of my carving designs turn up at a show, unless I had given permission for the pattern to be used, whIch I probably would, if asked.

But really — a few notes of a flute solo — to waste a judge’s time in an absurd lawsuit?

Since she wrote the “Kookaburra” song, it’s safe to assume Marion Sinclair had a sense of humor, and she’s probably laughing at the whole scenario, from the other side of the mortal curtain.