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Friday, January 25, 2013

Glee Steals Jonathon Coulton's Song and it is a Good Thing

Jonathon Coulton
So I watched an episode of Glee last night. They had a very memorable version of Baby Got Back.  Notice I said memorable, not good.  The song lead to #babygotback trending number one on twitter.  Half the tweets were about how hilarious or wrong the version is. The other half were talking about how Glee stole this version from Jonathon Coulton.

I'd never heard of Jonathon Coulton so I looked him up. And, yep, Glee used his interpretation of the song. It's not the first time they've used someone else's version of a song. It's actually common practice. Not just on Glee, but everywhere.  From a legal point of view, the copyright goes to the people who initially wrote Baby Got Back. From an ethical point of view...Different story.

Look, if I could speak to Mr. Coulton right now here's what I could say.  You've just been given a massive shout out by an extremely popular show. Glee has increased the record sales of Katy Perry, Rhianna, F.U.N., One Direction, etc.  You could spend your energy getting angry and fighting them OR you can spend the same amount of energy to find a way to use this.

You can't buy this amount of PR.  Glee probably did you a favour by not saying "Hey everyone, here's the Jonathon Coulton version of this song.  Just think about how many people are interested in this now because of the controversy.  Many more people know about you now than before Glee.  Most artists would kill for that level of exposure.

I understand the ego.  They took something that's yours and made it their own...which is exactly what you did with Sir Mix-a-Lot's song.  You paid money to use the lyrics. They paid by spending millions  of dollars to create a music video for your song that is airing all over the world.  People are STILL tweeting about it today, long after the show aire.

I fail to see how you lose here.

Post by Johnathon Coulton on Baby Got Back and Glee

Jonathon's Version

Glee's version


  1. I am sure his view would be a little different if they weren't making money off of it, but they are and a lot of it if enough people are talking about it to be trending so positively on twitter.

    Controversy is a two way street, they are getting plenty of attention as well.

    Lastly Jonathan Coulton is a musical artist, not an opportunist. No one should be happy when someone gladly accepts credit for and profits from your own work. And yes, by not crediting someone you are accepting credit.

  2. Sigh. Enough of the whining. For GOD's sake. Did Fox put out a press conference saying "Ignore Jonathon Coulton. He's a liar. We wrote this arrangement?" If they did,I apologize. If not, they have acknowledge they covered a cover. Which they are legal able to do under current copyright law. They only have to pay the original writer.

    What they've done is say: we're allowed to do this. And we did. You have no legal claim (and he doesn't) so just enjoy the free publicity.

    Instead of commenting on my blog about the purity of "artistry" spend your energy helping Coulton make the most of this. He basically won the lottery. And, from his last comments on the issue, has finally realize that. He's re-releasing the song and donating the money to charity. Even more exposure for him and he doesn't look like an opportunist.

    Writing, music, film are all business. Glee did nothing that Microsoft, Apple, and every other business does. Getting angry about it will not change the rules of the game. Everyone needs to start focusing on what they CAN do, not what they CAN'T do.

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    3. Wow. I stopped reading this comment after 2 sentences. It really seems like you should have written your own blog post about this.

      As for WHY I wrote this article, it was to show people interested in marketing how to turn a bad thing into something good.

      As for business, this is an AMAZING cost benefit event. It cost Coulton nothing. He has gained millions of dollars of exposure.

      If you can read, you will see I say: "From an ethical point of view...Different story."

      The reason for my above comment is I have no time for whiners. Which is all you are doing.

  3. The essential logic-bomb issue with "suck it up" is that he wouldn't be getting exposure UNLESS he complained. Glee's half-assed reaction saying that he "should enjoy the exposure" only works if they gave him credit for it - if people didn't know that it was a note for note copy of his arrangement (including a reference to "Johnny C" in the lyrics)then everyone would assume it was just a clever Glee arrangement. Are they in the right legally? Sure, but it's still ethically irresponsible.

    1. Good catch there Sarge. His whole post is essentially better written "suck it up".

      M Joseph Murphy...

      You told Quasi "Writing, music, film are all business. Glee did nothing that Microsoft, Apple, and every other business does. Getting angry about it will not change the rules of the game. Everyone needs to start focusing on what they CAN do, not what they CAN'T do.".

      Fox is a business and Glee is there product. As consumers we have the right to let a business know we don't like their methods or product(s). We let them know by telling them, informing the public, not buying their product or boycotting. Fox is just one company but no matter how many companies do something, it doesn't suddenly make something right.

      What we are doing is letting people and Fox know we don't like their methods, even if they are legal. Just because something is legal doesn't mean it's ethical. Child labor used to be legal and was often used in the United States. During the Industrial Revolution, children as young as four were employed in production factories with dangerous working conditions. This all ended when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938. Is child labor ethical? If it suddenly became legal again would it be ethical?

      We CAN change the "rules of the game" and we ARE focusing on what we CAN do. We are bringing this to people attention and bringing unethical practices to peoples attention is how we enact change. Whether that change is in business practices or in the laws that allow for such practices. To simply bury our heads in the sand does no one any good except those that would use or would like to continue to use unethical practices for profit.

      "There is no such thing as business ethics. There is only one kind - you have to adhere to the highest standards." -- Martin Bower.

    2. You obvious do not understand what logic is.

      Did they have a legal right to do this? - Yes
      Was it ethical? - No (which I did state in the article)
      Did he get more exposure? - Yes
      Will his sales increase? - If all the whiners out there actually buy his music instead of just slamming Glee...yes
      What has he lost? -....Um...Still not seeing this.
      How was he injured?...Not in the slightest.
      Has Glee acknowledged his work? - There was no press conference but they have not denied anything
      Does Coulton have a legal case? - No, which is why he's dropped it

      Hence - Suck it up buttercup. Turn the energy it took to write comments longer than my entire blog post and do something productive with it. Coulton has done a very smart thing now. He's re-issuing the song and donating the profits to charity. That shows logic and great understanding of reality. Two things you apparently do not possess.

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    5. I don't equate discussion with whining. Whining = "big bad guys take advantage. Boo hoo". I have no tolerance for victim mentality.

      Discussion: as an artist, how could I make sure this doesn't happen to me?


      Now that it's happened what can I do about it.

      Consumer Activism normally deals with making products safer. I get why people are upset. Get over it, use it and move out. Not doing so = whining.

  4. You do realize that any gained exposure is in spite of glee, not because of it, right? Not to mention, an identical glee version of the song on itunes means that the majority of people who liked the song while it was on glee is purchasing it from a company that literally made no contribution to the song in any way. He's angry because Glee is leeching money off of his efforts to make the song his. Just because he coincidentally got some publicity does not mean that he shouldn't complain about it.

  5. Do you honestly believe he has not received more exposure because his song was on Glee? If you really believe that there's nothing else I can say.


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