Glee Rips Off Jonathan Coulton

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Glee Rips Off Jonathan Coulton

The Glee version of "Baby Got Back" apparently used Jonathan Coulton's arrangement without his knowledge or permission.

Glee, the fairly popular Fox TV show featuring the misfit members of a high school glee club (and more recently, their college counterparts), is known for its song covers. Aside from that one silly time when New Directions decided to perform original songs (don't ask me how I know that), the show's cast integrates everything from modern pop hits to classic rock into its storylines, with each original episode featuring a few more new Glee-specific covers.

Being on a major television network, one would assume that the writers, producers, and legal team behind Glee go through the trouble of acquiring proper permission from singers and songwriters before recording new versions of those songs. Apparently, however, that's not always the case.

Earlier today, singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton discovered that Glee's version of "Baby Got Back" didn't sound very much like Sir Mix-a-Lot's original; in fact, it sounds suspiciously like his version of the song. At the very least, it's pretty clearly the exact same arrangement. It might be even more devious than that:

According to the unofficial Glee Wiki, "Baby Got Back" will appear on the eleventh episode of the current season of Glee, and hasn't appeared on any of the soundtrack albums yet.

It's worth noting that the Twitter account linked to the GleeSeason4Songs Youtube account isn't associated with Glee or Fox in any official capacity.

According to the poster, the song was obtained from the GleekOutBR Tumblr, which in turn links to a Brazilian fan site that also lists "Baby Got Back" as appearing in the eleventh episode of season four. That site links back to the Youtube video that started this kerfuffle to begin with.

Perhaps more damning is the fact that the Swedish iTunes store lists "Baby Got Back (Glee Cast Version)" as a single, though it's not yet available on the U.S. store.

What's unclear in all of this is whether Fox did something illegal, or just very uncool, by taking Coulton's arrangement of Sir Mix-a-Lot's song without his permission. A lawyer we spoke to wasn't sure about the legalities, but with angry fans currently tweeting @GLEEonFOX en masse, the network may be forced to respond.

As of this writing, there's been no word from the Glee team on Twitter or elsewhere, but we'll let you know if that changes. The episode in question is scheduled to air on January 24.

Source: Jonathan Coulton

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Meh, Glee butchers every single song they sing anyway. If Mr. Johnny C (And Sir Mix-a-Lot) are lucky, they won't use it.

Sarah LeBoeuf:
Aside from that one silly time when New Directions decided to perform original songs (don't ask me how I know that)...

You can't just throw that out there like that without an explanation! >.>

But they didn't have time to ask his permission: If they win regionals then it's straight on to sectionals and then a week later is semis, then semi-regionals, then regional-semis, then national lower-zone semis.

OT: I really hope they cancel this show soon.

If there's a silver lining here, it's that this will give Joco some more exposure. That guy is awesome.

They're a bunch of unoriginal scumbags, and part of the destruction of our culture with mindless sunshine and violets.

I had hoped to get in here before people began decrying Glee as the abomination that is ruining music/their childhood/other such ridiculous statements.

OT: Not very cool, Glee. Just out of curiosity, are there any musicians who can tell me whether or not the Glee songwriters might have accidentally stumbled into the same arrangement (i.e. whether it is the logical choice for turning "Baby Got Back" into an acapella pop song)?

I for one am a big Glee fan, (22yo straight male with a child). And honestly don't see the big problem with them covering songs. They definitely put a unique twist on each song which gives a clear distinction between their songs and the original. If I were to sing a song and people enjoyed it, would I be subject to a lawsuit because that song belonged to somebody else?

RobDaBank:
I for one am a big Glee fan, (22yo straight male with a child). And honestly don't see the big problem with them covering songs. They definitely put a unique twist on each song which gives a clear distinction between their songs and the original. If I were to sing a song and people enjoyed it, would I be subject to a lawsuit because that song belonged to somebody else?

The issue isn't the cover, its that they straight up ripped off his arrangement of the song.
As in no unique twist--they just took his version note for note and used their own performers.

Listen to the two versions of the song.

Up until now all I thought of Glee was that it was a good target for better shows/films to make fun of them (Community, Pitch Perfect according to Marter =P)

But this is extremely shitty of them. I mean, I thought the whole point of it was they did different versions, not just steal somebody else's.

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Thunderous Cacophony:
Just out of curiosity, are there any musicians who can tell me whether or not the Glee songwriters might have accidentally stumbled into the same arrangement (i.e. whether it is the logical choice for turning "Baby Got Back" into an acapella pop song)?

Not by a long shot. The original was a rap, so the melody, guitar part, etc. were all 100% Coulton's original work. Pretty much the only thing intact from Sir Mix-A-Lot's original song is the lyrics.

For a comparison point, imagine if someone decided to paint a picture of Jesus and the apostles at the last supper. The chances of them accidentally recreating Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper without being familiar with it are about the same as accidentally recreating Coulton's arrangement.

P.S. Thanks

RobDaBank:
I for one am a big Glee fan, (22yo straight male with a child). And honestly don't see the big problem with them covering songs. They definitely put a unique twist on each song which gives a clear distinction between their songs and the original. If I were to sing a song and people enjoyed it, would I be subject to a lawsuit because that song belonged to somebody else?

I think it's due to the fact that they didn't get his permission.

They even used the name Jonnie C. which is from Coulton's version, as the origenal says...

"I want 'em real thick and juicy
So find that juicy double
Mix-a-Lot's in trouble
Beggin' for a piece of that bubble"

where as both the Glee version and JoCo's verson

"I want 'em real thick and juicy
So find that juicy double
Jonnie C's in trouble
Begging for a piece of that bubble"

They didn't even try to hide the fact that they ripped it off, they seem to have been hoping that there was no overlap between JoCo fans and Glee fans, and that the internet wouldn't notice.

Now time to go curse at Fox via twitter.

It'd be real nice if a lawsuit follows which wipes glee out altogether. Seriously, I've fucking had it with glee.

My fiance enjoys Glee, and I've enjoyed it in a "lolteenagecomedydrama" kinda way... But DAMN THEM if they're going to thieve from Coulton!!!!

DVS BSTrD:
But they didn't have time to ask his permission: If they win regionals then it's straight on to sectionals and then a week later is semis, then semi-regionals, then regional-semis, then national lower-zone semis.

OT: I really hope they cancel this show soon.

Andy Shandy:
Up until now all I thought of Glee was that it was a good target for better shows/films to make fun of them (Community, Pitch Perfect according to Marter =P)

If Community has thought us anything here, its that if Jonathan Coulton tries to stop them with law suits, he will end up being a part of the cast himself. Its probably better just to ignore it, unless he has someone to Britta the show up.

GrimTuesday:

They didn't even try to hide the fact that they ripped it off, they seem to have been hoping that there was no overlap between JoCo fans and Glee fans, and that the internet wouldn't notice.

Oh, but only a fool would ignore the fact that the Internet knows all. :P

...for the most part at least.

OP: Eh, never seen or heard anything that's come from that show (lucky me?), but I guess that this is something that's bound to happen when your show is (mostly, as far as I know) based on leeching off other peoples hard work, and for that, I have no sympathy for them.

Turns out it is possible to hate glee more than i already did. Who knew?

Wow that is pretty shameless. Though it could have been worse, they could have ripped off Still Alive *shudders*

DVS BSTrD:
But they didn't have time to ask his permission: If they win regionals then it's straight on to sectionals and then a week later is semis, then semi-regionals, then regional-semis, then national lower-zone semis.

OT: I really hope they cancel this show soon.

What even are regionals?

Fappy:

Sarah LeBoeuf:
Aside from that one silly time when New Directions decided to perform original songs (don't ask me how I know that)...

You can't just throw that out there like that without an explanation! >.>

If there wasn't a statement that said don't ask me how I know that, I probably would have just figured you looked it up somewhere.

Thunderous Cacophony:

OT: Not very cool, Glee. Just out of curiosity, are there any musicians who can tell me whether or not the Glee songwriters might have accidentally stumbled into the same arrangement (i.e. whether it is the logical choice for turning "Baby Got Back" into an acapella pop song)?

Probably not. Creating a vocal jazz arrangement of a pop song isn't a particularly complicated process, but JC wrote a straight-out BALLAD. It's not a question of having a similar chord progression or a suspiciously similar melody, JC's arrangement is explicitly a pardoy of an up-tempo song, FAR from what Glee usually does with its covers and pretty far from what any vocal jazz arranger would usually arrive at when doing Baby Got Back. This is pretty explicitly a case of plagiarism (though, like the Escapist lawyer crew, I don't know whether or not it's technically copyright infringement to rip off a cover; I think it would probably have to depend on whether or not the cover arrangement itself was registered or not).

(Qualifications: Organ Performance major at the University of Michigan, way too many years of choir, composition, and two unfortunate seasons viewed of Glee)

EDIT: For comparison, here's the original.. If you were to do an arrangement you'd have to base it off the Mix-a-Lot's bass riff, which is C-C-Eb-Eb-Db-Db-Eb-Db (repeat), in straight eighth notes. The song's entire harmonic content is that bass riff and the quick synth chords, which are all C-minor, so as an arranger you have available to you C-minor with a lowered second. Now, I could come up with a pretty sweet vocal jazz arrangment of Baby Got Back out of that, but it is NOTHING like the Coulton arrangement and you would have to go through several wormholes to get to the same place; Coulton's is EXPLICITLY a musical parody.

Andy Shandy:
Up until now all I thought of Glee was that it was a good target for better shows/films to make fun of them (Community, Pitch Perfect according to Marter =P)

But this is extremely shitty of them. I mean, I thought the whole point of it was they did different versions, not just steal somebody else's.

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The gleeful Christmas episode of community was pretty damned amazing

I'm watching through the episodes again before the new season and I look forward to when that one comes up

Covarr:

Not by a long shot. The original was a rap, so the melody, guitar part, etc. were all 100% Coulton's original work. Pretty much the only thing intact from Sir Mix-A-Lot's original song is the lyrics.

Come now. Almost nothing in the arrangement is particularly unique. Coming up with an ensemble version of this could have easily been accidental, save for the "Johnny C" line, because it's all as bog-standard as it can be, and I'm sorry if I hurt any Coulton fans feelings for that, because a lot of his reinterpretations of songs aren't really that creative. He's also not the first artist to do this sort of thing, so the idea isn't even particularly unique.

Incidentally, you cannot copyright an arrangement, so there's no real legal problem here. No issue with "not getting his permission."

If Coultan wants to sue them, I would see no problem with him doing so. They clearly ripped him off!

I wish we could brake Glee into pieces and throw every piece in a fire. But then Fox would just return them having them singing 'Still Alive'.

And Glee is as tasteless as always. Ironically, this is exactly the sort of scandal I'd imagine from a bunch of dumbass singing teenagers with more concern for their quest to get laid than any repercussions for actions.

CJ1145:
And Glee is as tasteless as always. Ironically, this is exactly the sort of scandal I'd imagine from a bunch of dumbass singing teenagers with more concern for their quest to get laid than any repercussions for actions.

I know right...

And now for the maniacal part...
And now due to incredibly convoluted plans, glee will die in the hellfire of the justice system, and there's nothing they can do about it! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!

i would like to say exactally what i feel about glee. but i think the moders are gonna kick me out of the site if i do. god i hope coultan sue them. he's got the advantage on this one.

Which member of the cast looks like one of those rappers girlfriends? I mean how do they even get there in the first place? I look forward to them doing Night of the Living Baseheads or Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos next.

DVS BSTrD:
OT: I really hope they cancel this show soon.

I second this emotion, and I don't even watch TV beyond South Park, Family Guy, and the random NatGeo/Discovery/Science Channel documentary. But just knowing that Glee is a thing pisses me off.

RobDaBank:
I for one am a big Glee fan, (22yo straight male with a child). And honestly don't see the big problem with them covering songs. They definitely put a unique twist on each song which gives a clear distinction between their songs and the original. If I were to sing a song and people enjoyed it, would I be subject to a lawsuit because that song belonged to somebody else?

There's nothing wrong with covering a song, but you're really supposed to ask the person you're covering permission to do it since you'll essentially be making money off of their original work (despite putting your own twist on it). And there-in lies the problem. The difference between you standing on a street corner and belting out your favorite song and what Glee is doing here is that Glee intends to make money off of John's version of the song (via television ratings and, evidently, iTunes sales). THAT'S where just ripping off someone's song becomes a problem.

IIRC from an interview with the producers of Glee sometime after season 1, they do not ask permission beforehand for any of the songs used. I believe it was revealed at the time that few, if any, of the artists covered complained after finding out. Doesn't make it right by a long shot, but on the other hand a copyright not defended is worthless. If the artist neither gives formal permission or files suit against infringers then the strength of their copyright becomes suspect and they are likely to lose any future suits against infringers

RobDaBank:
I for one am a big Glee fan, (22yo straight male with a child). And honestly don't see the big problem with them covering songs. They definitely put a unique twist on each song which gives a clear distinction between their songs and the original. If I were to sing a song and people enjoyed it, would I be subject to a lawsuit because that song belonged to somebody else?

The difference is that, in the world of television, you need to get clearance from the original songwriters/performers if you intend to use their music in your show (and eventual DVD release), which usually entails paying said singer/songwriter a fee. During that process of seeking clearance, the singer/songwriter has the right to refuse the show permission to use their song. Glee also release the tracks they sing as singles on iTunes, and on albums, which - again - means either an extra fee, or a percentage of royalties, going back to the singer/songwriter.

That's really what the issue is here.

Add to that, not asking permission to use somebody else's work in a product that's going to be seen coast-to-coast is just kind of a dick move.

Oh Fox, you poor silly creatures.

You don't seem to realize the magnitude of what you've done here.

Prepare to get your shit kicked in.

RobDaBank:
I for one am a big Glee fan, (22yo straight male with a child). And honestly don't see the big problem with them covering songs. They definitely put a unique twist on each song which gives a clear distinction between their songs and the original. If I were to sing a song and people enjoyed it, would I be subject to a lawsuit because that song belonged to somebody else?

It's called "stealing"

They didn't ask for permission, and in fact, they didn't even rerecord the music, they just added new vocals

Here:

This video, done by some thoughtful guy over on youtube, plays both versions in unison

IT'S THE SAME FUCKING MUSIC, there isn't the slightest bit of dissonance

Well at least they didnt rip off Re: your brains id hate for that to be gleefied. Although on further thought the irony of them singing that would be funny considering how mindless the show is.

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