Copyright wars: “Glee” rips off Jonathan Coulton’s cover of Baby Got Back.

[UPDATE]: A reader notes that I may be being unfair to Mr. Coulton, as there is evidence that he at least attempts to avoid giving gratuitous offense to people not of his partisan faction. I therefore retract the comment, with a polite apology.

Short version: Jonathan Coulton created a cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s immortal Baby Got Back, back in the day (he’s using the song under a license; this will be important later). The song is pretty much how you’d expect John Denver would do the song on an acoustic guitar after John had smoked himself half-mellow; it’s entertainingly transgressive, people had a good chuckle, most of us forgot about it.

Moving along: so, eventually Glee – yes, that show – apparently decided to cover Coulton’s version themselves without bothering to even tell him.  Shamelessly (click the link and listen for yourself). How shamelessly?  Well, here’s their (alleged) response to Coulton (bolding mine)?

MORE MORE UPDATE 1/25: 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.

So Coulton has released his cover of the Glee cover of Coulton’s cover of Baby Got Back: Baby Got Back (In the Style of Glee) …or, as Jon Coulton put it, it is “EXACTLY THE SAME as [Coulton’s]  original version.” I just bought my copy, so you can guess my opinion about all of this.

Look, Jon Coulton probably despises people with my political views, and Glee probably can legally get away with ripping off somebody’s creative work like this; one of the things that you discover when paying attention to intellectual property rights is that it’s what’s not a crime that’s outrageous.  But even if it is legal it is still simply not appropriate to not even mention where you got the idea from.  It’s doubly inappropriate to lecture the guy that you stole the idea from about “exposure.”  If Glee had simply given Coulton some then there wouldn’t have been any problem and they might have even gotten the song for free.  But God forbid that television ever admits how much they rip off the Internet…

Moe Lane

Via Do-Gooder Press.

10 thoughts on “Copyright wars: “Glee” rips off Jonathan Coulton’s cover of Baby Got Back.”

  1. Yeah. I hate Glee with a passion. The creator of the show is a certifiable a-hole, if you know what I mean. He is known to insult people who don’t license their music to him for the show.

    1. I tried watching one episode, once. It inoculated me against any desire to ever see or hear anything about that show ever again.

  2. “Jon Coulton probably despises people with my political views”

    I doubt ‘despise’ is accurate. He mentioned a while back doing a show in Texas, and getting boos for a gratuitous dig at GWB in an updated The Presidents. Instead of the reaction we usually expect (“Ugh, unenlightened flyover hicks”) he said his immediate thought was “Wow, I live in a liberal bubble in New York” and then he rewrote the new lyrics. He may disagree, but he seems a very decent fellow. The indubitably skillful MC Frontalot, on the other hand, seems to want your kind and mine to die in a fire.

    1. Coulton is an entertainer, first and foremost. Sad that that seems to be a rarity now.

      I share your disappointment with MC Frontalot. The guy just can’t not throw a lefty sucker-punch. It would be one thing if his bit was politics, but it’s “nerd core” rap. What the heck is nerdy about hating on Reagan and Bush?

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