To begin with, I’m not a huge fan of Glee. I am a man who can say with confidence how much he loves musicals and acapella arrangements, but the show’s claim to be a melting pot of diversity [a place where Black people, Asians, homosexuals, and the disabled can belt it out to their hearts’ content] is not one I find myself agreeing with. But that’s the topic of another post.
Last week internet sweetheart Jonathan Coulton, known first and foremost for being the composer of “Still Alive”, the song that plays at the end of the game Portal, wrote a blog post in response to last Thursday’s episode of Glee. Specifically, the post was in response to their cover of “Baby Got Back” by Sir-Mix-A-Lot, which you can listen to here:
The issue being that Coulton released his own version of the song in 2006, which you can check out [and should, for comparison’s sake] here:
If you really want to scrutinize the two side by side, there’s a track on Soundcloud that simply places both tracks on top of one another [and an in-depth audio analysis, for those of you into that]. Coulton’s issue isn’t simply that Glee seems to have stolen his arrangement, but did so to the point where unique elements he added were copied as well. A duck quack is used to censor an expletive, and [this is practically impossible to ignore] the lyric “Mix-a-Lot’s in trouble” is replaced with “Johnny C’s in trouble” in both versions.
As he has kept the blog post constantly updated, four days ago he announced that having gotten in touch with the people at Glee, the following information was relayed to him:
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.
While Coulton is unsure of his exact copyright claim to the track, he had obtained a Harry Fox license to release it on an album alongside his own original music. His response is, refreshingly, a mature one in response to this whole ordeal.
He has re-released his track on iTunes under the new title “Baby Got Back (In the Style of Glee). “ Thanks to using the same license as before, Sir Mix-a-Lot will collect royalties, and all proceeds from the following month will go to charities The VH1 Save the Music Foundation and The It Gets Better Project.
This has, of course gotten its fair share of media attention. From a Facebook status by webcomic artist Rob DenBleyker to posts by Kotaku and The A.V. Club, the internet appears to have rallied behind one of its own.
In his interview with Wired magazine Coulton shared a very simple solution for the show that spends millions per episode. He suggests that “they could offer to pay artists whose arrangements they use the same amount of money they would otherwise pay a musical arranger,” and that “if they opened with that, I’m sure a lot of artists would jump at the chance.”
Somehow, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Singer-songwriter Greg Laswell’s cover of a song made famous by Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, was also seemingly ripped off for an episode in November 2011. I’ve embedded the two songs for you to compare once again [and because I’ve gotta break up this wall of text somehow]:
Unfortunately, Laswell did not quite have the fan following that Jonathan Coulton does, and as a result this happened more or less without incident. The Hollywood Reporter did a short piece on it the month following, but from what I can tell it didn’t generate much controversy. Similarly, Petra Haden’s arrangement of “Don’t Stop Believin'” may have been appropriated without permission [i.e. stolen] by Glee as well.
It remains to be seen whether or not Coulton’s lawyers will be able to take legal recourse, but for the time being I’m happy that the show is finally being taken to task by those who believe that creativity should be rewarded and acknowledged, not plundered.