Jonathan Coulton vs. Glee

This is a odd case of a cover of a cover soundalike. Well more like a lifting of an arrangement. And just to be more meta about this whole thing I’m going to just steal parts of the Wired article “Jonathan Coulton Explains How Glee Ripped Off His Cover Song — And Why He’s Not Alone” by Laura Hudson

Fans of indie musician Jonathan Coulton were incensed last week when an alleged Glee version of “Baby Got Back” surfaced on the internet that seemed to shamelessly rip off Coulton’s distinctive arrangement of the 1992 Sir Mix-A-Lot song. Last night, that cover version was confirmed as an official Glee track when it appeared on the mid-season premiere of the Fox show, and is currently for sale on iTunes.

Coulton said that while his lawyers have been looking into the copyright issue, it seems unlikely that he will have any legal recourse. ”It seems that because of the compulsory license I purchased when I made a cover of this song, the arrangement itself is not protected under copyright, although it’s the darkest gray of the gray areas [of the law]… While there may be some weird offshoot of the law, it doesn’t seem like something where a little guy could sue to get any satisfaction.”

After the “Sadie Hawkins” episode aired, Coulton posted a tweet that read “I am pretty angry,” and elaborated further on 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.




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10 Replies to “Jonathan Coulton vs. Glee”

  1. James 'End-To-End' Benton

    Surely it isn’t just the arrangement, it’s the tune and chord progression? Those were (presumably) originated by JoCo, and are recognisably the same in the ‘Glee’ version. Therefore I would imagine he has a right to be identified as a co-author. (Apologies if this is dealt with on one of the links.)

      1. James 'End-To-End' Benton

        It’s a shame if the internet’s collective legal mind can’t come up with a sound case. But now that Fox ripped off its favourite singer/songwriter, at least the internet has a target for its incoherent and ill-focused rage.

  2. dthree

    Coulton would have needed to ask for permission from Mix-a-lot in order to copyright his arrangement as a derivative work. From what I’ve been reading about this, almost nobody ever does this for a cover song, even if it is dramatically different from the original. They just pay the compulsory rate directly to BMG/ASCAP/ETC and don’t even have to contact the original creator.

    This isn’t the first time Glee has done this, and they are being utter dicks about it when a simple attribution in the credits would have gone a long way.

    1. Keith Post author

      Woah! That’s crazy.
      Here are direct youtube links for anyone’s reference:

      Greg Laswell – “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (from the Confession of a Shopaholic Soundtrack)

      Glee – “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”

      And of course, the original
      Cyndi Lauper – “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”


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