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Internet music star Jonathan Coulton feuds with ‘Glee’ over ‘Baby Got Back’

The Juice
January 29, 2013

Sometimes a TV show's off-screen drama can rival that of its fictional characters, and that's saying something when those characters are constantly singing and dancing through life. But singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton's real-life feud with "Glee" is quickly overtaking the drama depicted on the hit Fox series.

As we all know, the award-winning TV show is known for its soundtrack full of quirky interpretations of popular chart-toppers. But this time, one of such tunes is the cause of a lot of anger and frustration: “Baby Got Back,” originally performed by Sir Mix-a-Lot, which was featured in the Jan. 24 episode of “Glee,” entitled “Sadie Hawkins.”

See also: Bette Midler addresses 'Glee' rumours (VIDEO)

But to properly understand the following hubub, let's go through the history of Coulton and "Glee"-gate:

Jonathan Coulton is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based folk musician known for celebrating nerd culture and the Internet. According to his website, Coulton released a light acoustic version of “Baby Got Back” on Oct. 14, 2005, which he then included in his live shows. The song was his big break on the Internet, getting picked up by several blogs and going viral.

The song then lived in relative obscurity until this earlier this month, when Coulton was alerted that “Glee” had posted a cast recording of “Baby Got Back” using his arrangement.

“Hey look, @GLEEonFOX ripped off my cover of Baby Got Back," he tweeted on Jan. 18, linking to the Glee cover. "Never even contacted me. Classy."

Comparing the two tracks, the similarities are quite clear, including the same banjo track and the improvised lines “take your pretty picture” and “Jonny C’s in trouble” that Coulton originally wrote.

“I assume ['Glee'] heard [my cover] and wanted to put it in their show. Which is flattering, but also an email would have been nice — just a hi, howya doin’ kind of thing,” Coulton told Wired.com at the time, adding that fans using his song is another story. “If it is a large corporation using other people’s ideas to make money, whether it’s legal or not, it’s kind of gross.”

“Sadie Hawkins” aired on Jan. 24, including the “Baby Got Back” cover with the “Jonny C’s in trouble” line removed. Coulton wrote on his blog that he had also heard from “Glee” lawyers, who said that their use of his arrangement was legal and the he “should be happy for the exposure (even though they do not credit [him], and have not even publicly acknowledged that it’s [his] version – so you know, it’s kind of SECRET exposure).” According to Coulton, he was not offered an apology or any any kind of compensation.

Coulton talked to Wired again after the episode aired, and revealed there wasn’t likely anything he could do without proving that “Glee” had literally used the same audio as his own version. But the uproar that surrounded "Glee"-gate caused more artists to declare that “Glee” had done covers of their covers without permission or even notification.

“DJ Earworm, a.k.a. the San Francisco-based mashup artist Jordan Roseman, pointed out that a 2012 Glee cover of R. Kelly’s 'I Believe I Can Fly' similarly appeared to be lifted from his arrangement of the song, as did singer/songwriter Greg Laswell, who told The Hollywood Reporter in 2011 that his version of Cyndi Lauper’s 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun' also appeared to have been used without permission on the Fox show,” Wired reported.

This week, Coulton fired back at Fox and “Glee” by re-releasing his cover under the title “Baby Got Back (In the Style of Glee)” – which he says is exactly the same as the 2005 song. The track is available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play, with all of the proceeds going to The VH1 Save the Music Foundation, and The It Gets Better Project.

“Call it a form of protest, awareness raising, viral PR hackitude, whatever you like. I don’t know how big this will get, but there’s a potential to make a lot of noise this way – imagine if this thing charts!” Coulton writes. “Maybe this is something that the Glee people would like to give some EXPOSURE. Though, in order to do that they’d have to make some kind of public acknowledgement that I exist.”

The last time we checked, Coulton’s single was topping “Glee” on the iTunes charts.

See also: Jessica Sanchez dishes on 'Glee' (VIDEO)

Coulton is still looking into possible ramifications of “Glee” not only used his arrangement, but his backing audio track as well. He says to expect more updates soon.

At this point, most of the Coulton vs. “Glee” controversy has not been confirmed nor denied by Fox representatives, but it sure has been one entertaining David vs. Goliath story. In fact, it would make a good TV episode in itself!

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