Glee vs. Jonathan Coulton: A Tale of Big Fish Little Fish…

My opinion? It seems to be yet another case of big fish eats little fish…

I’m talking about the Glee vs Jonathan Coulton fiasco that’s been kicking about the last couple of weeks. The synopsis is this:

  1. In 2006 Jonathan Coulton releases an arrangement of ‘Baby Got Back’ on Thing a Week One.
  2. A week and a half ago – Jan 18th, 2013 – a video of the ‘New Glee Single for Season Four from the episode 4×11 “Sadie Hawkins”’ shows up on le Youtube.
  3. It doesn’t take all that long for people to figure out the similarities between the two songs. In fact, that very day Coulton tweets; ‘Hey look, @GLEEonFOX ripped off my cover of Baby Got Back: http://bit.ly/WME9Ho . Never even contacted me. Classy.’ Followed by; ‘After listening, I think that @GLEEonFOX may have even used parts of my recording. Do I hear a duck quack? And of course they say “Johnny C”’
  4. Tempers rise, accusations are made, blogs start getting wind… and people are starting to wonder whether the song will actually appear in the episode. What about copyright infringement? Is this all some odd hoax? Perhaps it’s slipped the net before all the legal arrangements have been made?
  5. On the 24th of January the episode airs – “Sadie Hawkins”, 4×11 – complete with a Jonathan Coulton ‘inspired’ version of ‘Baby Got Back’. No one’s aware that anything has changed; Coulton hasn’t retracted his statement about Glee ‘ripp[ing] off my cover’, and hasn’t posted anything to suggest that anything has changed.
  6. ‘I am pretty angry. I have news and will write about it soon.’ Ouch, Baby’s got back… Coulton puts fingers to keyboard and tells us how he feels on his website: ‘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.’
  7. So what does Coulton do the following day? Re-release his cover as ‘my cover of Glee’s cover of my cover’ on Itunes with all the February proceeds going to charity. Of course. We’d all do the same (wouldn’t we?)

Before we go any further, here are the two videos so you can decide for yourself:

So here we are in the present, and what’s happening? Coulton’s ‘my cover of Glee’s cover of my cover’ is sitting at a tidy 84 on Itunes. Where’s Glee’s cover? I’m not sure, but it’s not in the top 100, and on Youtube the ‘original’ Glee upload is sitting at 16,094 dislikes to 932 likes. According to a recent article on Forbes: ‘You can argue copyright law all you want, but in the end this is not an issue about law, but one about credit and attribution. Glee has been accused of doing this before and now that the “Baby Got Back” story is out, other artists are coming forward to say the same thing has happened to them.’

DJ Earworm, a.k.a. the San Francisco-based mashup artist Jordan Roseman, pointed out that a 2012 Glee cover of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” similarly appeared to be lifted from his arrangement of the song, as did singer/songwriter Greg Laswell, who told The Hollywood Reporter in 2011 that his version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” also appeared to have been used without permission on the Fox show.

Well, that’s not good news is it? Combine that with Ryan Murphy’s (one of the shows creators) polite, ‘F**k you, Kings of Leon’, in response to them refusing to let Glee cover their songs, further calling them ‘self-centred assholes [who] missed that a 7-year-old kid can see someone close to their age singing a Kings of Leon song, which will maybe make them want to join a glee club or pick up a musical instrument. It’s like, OK, hate on arts education. You can make fun of Glee all you want, but at its heart, what we really do is turn kids on to music.’

Anyway, Coulton’s track is now available on Itunes, Amazon and Google Play with royalties going to Sir Mix-a-Lot and the rest going to ‘two charities: The VH1 Save the Music Foundation, and The It Gets Better Project.’

Do the right thing.

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