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What's with the name?

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it's time to play the music

It Looks Like Glee Did A Jonathan Coulton Song Without Request or Credit


Though the story is still developing, there isn’t really another way to put this: it looks an awful lot like one of the songs Glee is planning to include in its soon-to-be-returning fourth season is a soft-rock cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” In fact, it’s a very specific soft rock cover of “Baby Got Back.” Nerd singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton‘s cover. Which wouldn’t otherwise be a problem, except that Coulton himself was never actually contacted or asked about whether it could be used.

Here’s where somebody says “I don’t understand, they’re doing his cover song? How do we know it’s just not a cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot that sounds a bit like Coulton?” And that’s a reasonable concern, except for the fact that “Baby Got Back” is a rap song, and in the process of making his version, Coulton both gave the song a distinctive tune, a new orchestration, and a few changed words. All of which are preserved in the Glee version uploaded to YouTube by fans.

Here’s Coulton’s original:

And here’s what cropped up on YouTube this morning:

So the next question would probably be “Well, Coulton’s known for making a name on the internet and being pretty cool about releasing his chords and lyrics and even letting people download his songs for free. Maybe this actually okay under Creative Commons?” The answer is no. Since it’s a cover song, he can’t license it under Creative Commons, and even if he had, his CC license specifies that his songs can only be used if the user isn’t profiting from their use. Here’s what Coulton says:

I have some questions about how IP works in terms of this song. It’s a cover of a Sir Mix-a-Lot song obviously, but I wrote a new melody for it, which this recording uses. Back when I released it, I bought the statutory license to distribute my version of this song through Harry Fox. Creative Commons doesn’t come into play because it’s a cover song, and anyway my CC license specifies Non-Commercial.

A complicating factor is that, to my ears, it sounds like it actually uses the audio from my recording – not the vocals obviously, but the instruments sound EXTREMELY similar. And I could swear I hear the duck quack somewhere in the background there, though it’s hard to say if that’s just my ears expecting it.

But even if Glee didn’t have to ask for permission in this specific case, they should have, or at least informed Coulton that they would be paying tribute to on of his songs in the upcoming episodes. If there’s a ray of hope for restoring faith in humanity here, it’s that while the Glee fan who uploaded the video (to their channel full of other upcoming recordings of the show’s songs) says it is 100% an official song that’s included in show, there’s been no official statement from Fox or Glee as to whether the recording is legitimate. It certainly seems unlikely that if a group with Glee-like voices would go to the trouble of creating a version of Jonathan Coulton’s “Baby Got Back” and then that that innocent recording would be mistaken for an actual Glee cast recording by the show’s dedicated fandom.

While clearly POed about the whole thing, Coulton himself is remaining impressively publicly calm, asking for confirmation first, rather than, say, ninja-style vengeance. But the facts as they stand do not look good, and it would behoove Fox and Glee to be on their toes with an explanation.

(via Wired.)

Update: Musical group and frequent Coulton backup band Paul & Storm have found confirmation that the same recording is being sold on Glee’s official iTunes shopfront.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/cedric.satterfield Cedric Satterfield

    I play guitar, and that arppegiated riff is almost note for note exactly off of one of the recordings I have of JC. Wow. That’s pretty blatant.

  • http://twitter.com/HeGeekSheGeek He Geek She Geek

    Didn’t even change the tempo! I played them both at the same time. Perfectly timed up until the time Glee ends. (“Glee ends”. I like the sound of that)

  • TheBoost

    I wonder if some music guy for “Glee” heard Coulton’s song and thought it was obscure enough to rip off without anyone really noticing.

  • http://twitter.com/lilygrimm128 Susan Chakmakian

    Just another thing that makes me glad I stopped watching Glee after the second season. They’ve made the jump from shoddy character consistency and poor plot construction to actual artistic infringement. Way to go. *slow clap*

  • Anonymous

    Let’s see if blatant plagarism against a beloved songster will inspire as much blind screaming hatred as some of the other sins against man and god we’re experienced in recent history.

  • Stehpy

    I really hope Glee/Fox treads lightly on this issue and clears this up soon, because despite this being neither Glee or Fox posting this it seems pretty legitimate this is them stealing JoCo’s stuff. If you would have played this to me without me reading the article I would have thought it was one of his things where he gets friends or some other talent he is close with to sing it for a concert or upcoming CD because it is uncannily close.

    I hope you guys don’t mind I digress but since we are on the topic of geeky things and Glee. I find it’s rather a shame, because I would personally DIE of happiness to see the Glee writers collaborate with him to make more original songs for the show or even do a cover once in a while. (Imagine, a spat between two of the female characters and one of them passive-aggressively singing “Still Alive”, or a duet between two characters singing “Nemeses”? )

    Also, I think the series would actually benefit from an actual “Geek” character (may I even say a girl geek character?), meaning someone who actually has more than a passing interest in comic books/television/video games/anime/ect unlike the other students who just sort of say they are a fan of something/do something geeky (like the superhero episode) and it almost never is mentioned again except
    (rarely) in passing.

    Now I’m daydreaming, what if Glee touched on the issues of women’s treatment in video games or at cons? That woulddefinitely be something.

  • https://twitter.com/Thejackthompson Jack Thompson

    Equally blatant? They left the only lyric Coulton changed. They actually had the gall to sing “Johnny C’s in trouble.”

  • http://twitter.com/MatthewOden Matthew Oden

    They left in the part where Johnathan Coulton says his own name (“Johnny C’s in trouble” at the 2:16 mark). Classy.

  • http://twitter.com/kayforaday Kay Livingston

    I second everything you just said, down to the timing of giving up on them, but especially on this latest classy move.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.petersen.10 Steve Petersen

    They even left in the change from Mixalot’s version from “Mixalot’s in trouble” to “Jonnie C’s in trouble”. Blatant ripoff.

  • http://twitter.com/TTHOOM Tim Terrell

    What a boring cover. Richard Cheese’s cover is 1000 time better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anatasia.beaverhousen.7 Anatasia Beaverhousen

    This. Exactly why I stopped too.

  • Anonymous
  • http://twitter.com/lysana Brenda/Lysana/either

    The biphobia and transphobia in the show was clearly not enough for some Gleeks, but hey, a straight white guy’s losing money. Now something matters enough to get angry. (Mind you, I also dislike the piracy and JoCo’s a great musician. But this isn’t their first offense against common decency. Just the one that seems to be pushing some people over the edge who should’ve noticed in season one that the guys behind this show are creeps.)

  • Guest

    This is a geek interest site. You can’t complain that the first time they’ve mentioned Glee is when some item of geek interest comes up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/femjesse Jess Tommassello

    Sorry that sounds awful. Glee must end. I don’t care what they did for FUN they do more harm than good.

  • http://www.facebook.com/femjesse Jess Tommassello

    Why waste energy being offended for other people? Maybe people who are upset for JoCo couldn’t give a crap about any other aspect of the show to be bothered to watch it in the first place… I mean, we already know it’s crap, but now it’s offensive to us.

  • Anonymous

    I would blame the utter lack of skill at writing meaningful characters for the passing interests. That’s the way every characteristic about every character (and basically every relationship) has been handled since Season 2. “SURPRISE! _______ is happy/angry/sad/concerned about/doing/interested in X so we can use it as a contrived plot device to do Y!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mary-Sulkowski/1063430223 Mary Sulkowski

    On the plus side, I never liked Glee in the first place, and I finally sat down and listened to the Jonathan Coulton version.

  • http://twitter.com/DisposableTea Bronson O’Quinn

    Shouldn’t the super popular network show be more worried about ripping off an obscure song than the other way around? After all, if Coulton stole something from FOX, he would be more likely to get away from it being the little fish in the bid sea. (Of course, their lawyers wouldn’t be as forgiving as Coulton is being at the moment).

  • http://brightblueink.net/ Inky

    Can’t people be offended by BOTH? I’ve been upset over their poor handling of the lesbian couple long, long, long before this. (And disliked the show even before that–I dropped it 5 episodes in.) This is just yet another stupid mistake by Glee to me…but one I’m almost hoping will take it off the air. This show needed to be figuratively taken out back and shot a long time ago.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scottanthony72 Scott Anthony

    Odd I have the song track and it ws never part of it. ITunes, well you know how they let unofficial things through and only on EUro posted servers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scottanthony72 Scott Anthony

    Besides even if GLee used it, he has no intellectual rights. WHile people make a stink about it, and if Glee was going to acutally ever decide to air it (and hasn’t). Jonathan Coulton is now going to be with out much needed positive publicity. His version can’t stand on it’s own well enough to become popular.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scottanthony72 Scott Anthony

    CAN Jonathan Coulton please provide a link to the OFFCIAL track on the Season 4 soundtrack? I mean the song was never on it, and the only acutally listing is on a unofficial youtube video people refer too. THe Itune site lsiting it, is also unofficial. Now is the only Baby got back excerpt they done from a 1990′s country remake. Oh wait, anyone notice something about that earlier version… hummm

  • Anonymous

    oh wow I didn’t realize it hadn’t aired yet. I assumed it had that explains why there’s no video or anything yet.

  • Anonymous

    I made it to Season 3. Near the end Episode 20 “Props” is actually a fantastic episode. I’d actually recommend you check it out. It’s a Tina episode but it ends with that same selfish characterization that we’ve come to loath from Glee. Classic Glee bringing up all these funny character tropes and then continuing them anyway.


    “Hey isn’t it weird that Mercedes only comes in to belt that final note?”
    “Yes it’s weird we should change that”
    *next episode*
    “Ok Mercedes come in and sing that final note”

  • Anonymous

    make more original songs for the show

    Step 5 in how we fix Glee. Hey remember in season 1 when songs actually fit the plot rather than the other way around?

  • Anonymous

    It felts to me more like “We need to do plot device (aka song) Y, ok let’s make *insert character here* happy/angry/sad/concerned about/doing/interested in X.

  • Anonymous

    not odd at all. Glee has a very large sound listing. No doubt the soundtracks are being split now. After all Season 4 isn’t complete yet – http://epguides.com/Glee/

    This song isn’t on the US iTunes but the Swedish one. The likely explanation being that it will appear in a FUTURE episode.

  • Anonymous

    Coulton would never get the popularity that Glee gets but he doesn’t need it. The same way Master P is one of the richest rappers in the game because while he doesn’t sell as much as some rappers he makes fantastic choices financially.

    Coulton doesn’t need Glee to popularize his song. He’s popular in his demographic and that’s good enough for him.
    As far as right he may not own the song itself but it sounds like he does have the rights to HIS VERSION and if glee took his version then that’s where they’ve messed up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.truxillo Laura Truxillo

    I think Coulton’s got himself a good chunk of popularity as it is, and mostly from his original songs.

    Shouldn’t he have some rights for the instrumentals? That’s all his own, isn’t it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=38306600 Jacii Miller

    I noticed that..

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    This doesn’t surprise me at all, Glee has a history of ripping off other people’s versions of songs (see Greg Laswell’s version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anna-Sophia-May/100000092990769 Anna Sophia May

    I saw one episode of Glee in my drama class, disliked every single one of the characters. never watched another episode, and never will.

  • Taryn

    Yeah… I just played them simultaneously… Exact same song. And Glee even left in his part where it says Coulton’s name.