Friday, January 25th, 2013

Fox Doesn't Care that 'Glee' Ripped Off Jonathan Coulton's Cover Song

Last week, a new song from the TV show Glee was released online, an acoustic cover version of Sir-Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" that used the same melody, arrangement, and even some new lyrics from musician/comedian/internet superstar Jonathan Coulton's 2005 cover of "Baby Got Back" without paying or crediting Coulton and without his permission. Coulton took to the internet about the plagiarism and a ton of people came out in support of him over the blatant theft of material. The episode with the song in it aired last night, and Jonathan Coulton has an update on the situation after talking to the folks at Fox (via his blog):

Well, they aired it, seemingly unchanged. And it’s now for sale in the US iTunes store. They also got in touch with my peeps to basically say that they’re within their legal rights to do this, and that I should be happy for the exposure (even though they do not credit me, and have not even publicly acknowledged that it’s my version – so you know, it’s kind of SECRET exposure). While they appear not to be legally obligated to do any of these things, they did not apologize, offer to credit me, or offer to pay me, and indicated that this was their general policy in regards to covers of covers. It does not appear that I have a copyright claim, but I’m still investigating the possibility (which I consider likely) that they used some or all of my audio. I’ll write something longer and more detailed about this when I can get my head together about it probably in a couple of days. Thanks for your support, but please continue not to burn anything down.

This is pretty despicable, and hopefully, Coulton's attempts to prove they stole his audio pay off because there should be at least a tiny amount of justice in this situation.

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  • Aaron Dunbar

    At the risk of sounding like I'm defending Glee(which I don't care for one bit), how exactly do they owe this guy anything? It's not like this was an original song by JC, kinda feels like a thief complaining that someone stole his stolen goods. Very silly dispute IMO, though I admit to not knowing much about the legal precedent here.

    • Marc

      He paid for the right to use the original lyrics. So not really appropriate to imply thievery on his part or comparison to a thief.

    • http://twitter.com/rock_golf RockGolf

      Simple. Glee used Coulton's own recording without credit, attribution or permission. Even if there's a gray area about the arrangement, and I'd guess Coulton's version easily falls into the category of "transformative work" legally established with 2 Live Crew's version of "Pretty Woman", there's no doubt at all that you can just pick up someone's recorded performance in whole and market it without compensation.

    • http://twitter.com/doggans doggans

      The thing is, Coulton wrote not only his own arrangement, but his own original melody for the song, which Glee took NOTE FOR NOTE.

      Even if they didn't jack his actual recording, his version is definitely distinct from the original. Maybe they don't owe him anything *legally*, but it was still a douchey thing to do, and to discover that Glee actually has a *policy* of taking creative arrangements from independent artists without even the tiniest acknowledgement is incredibly disturbing.

    • Weevil

      You can write music as well as words. They included his arrangement to the point where they say his name in the full version. It appears as though they literally digitally copied his arrangement.

      Honestly, I think it is such a shitty cover song that I find it hard to care. I mean just a terrible song and he shouldn't be proud enough of it to be so public about claiming it is his. But what they did is wrong. And when he wanted to use the song he paid for it.

  • Comedy Watcher

    Did Coulton get permission from Sir-Mix-A-Lot? Or is this a parody of a parody of a parody? Woah. Just blew my mind.

    • Lissa

      He says he went through the Harry Fox Agency. They hand out mechanical licences, which you can use to make a cover legally. I don't think he can do anything about Glee, but he at least had a licence to post it.

    • Marc

      He paid for the rights to use the song lyrics in his version.

    • Patrick

      JC's version is a distinctly original arrangement, with a new instrumentation, tempo, and melody. Now we go from one version (Mix-a-Lot's) to two (Mix-a-lot's and JC's). Call it parody or transformative work, JC made an artistic contribution. Glee simply took Coulton's arrangement (and possibly sampled his song, too) and recorded new vocals. Theft.

  • http://twitter.com/djimenez9 Daniel Jimenez

    Most importantly, twee acoustic ironic covers of rap songs are garbage. Including this one. Glee sucks, Ryan Murphy sucks, Fox sucks, and yet I don't care if Coulton gets credit or not, because his cover sucks, too.

    • Weevil

      This cover really is awful.