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Mickey Mouse squeals: New legal twist in Disney theme song rip-off row

BT

'Nothing like it' ... a still from Tourism Australia's new  campaign.
'Nothing like it' ... a still from Tourism Australia's new campaign. 

Mickey copied by new tourism ad?

A new Tourism Australia advertisement strikes a startling resemblance to the theme song of 'The Mickey Mouse Club'.

Four months after a court ruled it ripped off a popular Australian folk tune, a record company could have its revenge.

EMI Music Publishing controls the Australian rights to Disney's Mickey Mouse Club theme song, which has been caught up in a potential copyright feud.

A prominent Queensland music expert says Tourism Australia's latest ad jingle is so similar to the tune that it could easily lose a legal challenge.

Queensland Conservatorium of Music music program convener Donna Weston said the chord progression in the ad was strikingly similar to the Mickey Mouse theme.

In February a federal court ruled that Australian band Men at Work ripped off a children's song, Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, with its 1980s smash hit Down Under.

EMI has lodged in appeal, which is due to be heard in August.

Ms Weston said the recent case surrounding Down Under was "a lot less obvious" than any Mickey Mouse/Tourism Australia comparison.

The case is the most high profile in Australian copyright law and could cost EMI and the band's songwriters a significant amount of money.

But EMI is now considering whether one of its own tunes has been illegally ripped off.

When contacted by brisbanetimes.com.au, EMI Music Publishing managing director John Anderson said he had not yet heard the Tourism Australia jingle.

He added that he would compare it with the Mickey Mouse theme song.

Mr Anderson would not comment on the likelihood of court action, which would be the right of the Disney company.

Disney Australia & New Zealand declined to comment.

Brisbane intellectual property lawyer Tony Bennett said similarities between the tunes only needed to be "close enough" for there to be a breach of copyright law.

"[The Tourism Australia ad] needs to be similar enough to be regarded as a reproduction but it doesn't have to be identical," said Mr Bennett, a partner at Bennett & Philp.

"When you look at similar issues it's often a question of degree but what usually matters more than anything else is the merit of the bit taken.

"Plenty of songs have a catchy bit, a striking part of a tune, which stays in your head.

"The song might be three or five minutes long but the bit that you remember might be 10 or 15 seconds long. It's often that bit that will be the critical bit in the view point of determining infringement.

"It might only be 10 per cent of the overall song [but] if that's the bit that gives the striking flavour or impression to [the jingle] then taking that is likely to be infringement, even though you haven't taken the whole song."

Ms Weston said chord progression matches were very common between songs, but there were also other similarities between the Tourism Australia and Mickey Mouse tunes that could potentially be illegal.

"There are thousands of songs written on the same chord progression," she said.

"What is interesting about this one, is that there are snippets of melody that are similar, and the tempo and rhythm is the same - just enough for you to have that 'tip of the tongue' feeling.

"If someone at Disney wanted to be pedantic, they would have a strong case."

The ad was directed by Michael Gracey, the man behind YouTube's most-watched commercial, the Evian Roller Babies.

The music is by producer Josh Abrahams.