Jonathan Coulton is one of geek cultures most unique voices. Often his music can be hilarious with undertones of truth about being a misfit and outsider. Exploring real troubling experiences that almost any ‘geek’ will go through, while using our language and terminology. The man really is a musical wit and should be cherished as one of the culture’s best musical talents.
Just for reference, you have definitely heard his music before, even if you don’t think you have.
Now, I am sure you have heard of Glee. The TV series about the high school kids singing covers of popular songs. Well, here is a version of Baby Got Back from the cast, originally performed by Sir Mix-a-Lot:
Now, here is a version that Jonathan Coulton released in October 2005:
As you can tell, there are some similarities to the two. And I use the word ‘some’ lightly. It seems that Coulton himself noticed this too and tried to get in contact with Fox about the similarities. After days had passed, the song aired and went onto Itunes unchanged. It seems Fox responded to him and Coulton summarised by saying:
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.
Of course, Coulton’s version is a cover of another song, and that certainly complicates things. Despite having some protection on the melody he wrote, Coulton says he doesn’t have the biggest legal case against the show. However, he does believe that the show used his recording for the track, and if they find that to be true, then Fox might find they have a real problem on their hands.
I am not going to come out and say Fox are lying or that they definitively used Coulton’s track, but I do feel that I can question the practice here. If it did in fact happened as Coulton summarised, saying that an artist should be happy about them using music that another artist composed without any credit is troubling. It isn’t exposure if it is not advertised as Coulton’s arrangement in the credits or Itunes song.
Hopefully, Fox will make an official statement to illuminate their side of the story. Even though Coulton may not have the legal standing at the moment, you can be sure that Fox are going to be getting a lot of angry emails that they would have much rather have avoided in the long run. It may also complicate how they deal with covers of covers in the future. It certainly is a messy situation.
This article was first posted on January 25, 2013