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.
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.
Confirmed that the “Baby Got Back” in the video is officially from Glee. (Same version is in Swedish iTunes Store as official Glee track)
— Paul and Storm (@paulandstorm) January 18, 2013