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Band may have to pay millions for hit song

Australian band Men At Work may have to pay millions in royalties after a court ruled today that they copied a well-known children's campfire song for the flute melody in its 1980s hit Down Under.

Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree was written more than 70 years ago by Australian teacher Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guides competition, and the song has been a favourite around campfires from New Zealand to Canada.

The teacher died in 1988 and publishing company Larrikin Music owns the copyright to her song about the native Australian bird. Larrikin filed the copyright action last year.

"I have come to the view that the flute riff in Down Under... infringes on the copyright of Kookaburra because it replicates in material form a substantial part of Ms Sinclair's 1935 work," Federal Court Justice Peter Jacobson said in Sydney.

He ordered the parties back to court on February 25 to discuss the compensation Larrikin should receive from songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert and Men At Work's record companies Sony BMG Music Entertainment and EMI Songs Australia.

Adam Simpson, Larrikin Music's lawyer, said outside court that the company might seek up to 60pc of the royalties Down Under earned since its release -- an amount that could total millions.

The songwriters and their recording companies did not immediately comment.

Down Under and the album Business As Usual topped the Australian, American and British charts in early 1983. The song remains an unofficial anthem for Australia.