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Twittersphere is buzzing with allegations that the popular TV show, Glee, ripped off the work of singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton. The episode in question was aired on January, 24, 2013, and featured a glee-ified rendition of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s rap, “Baby Got Back.”
According to Coulton’s angry fans, Glee‘s arrangement of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s rap is strikingly similar to Coulton’s own verison. Indeed, Glee‘s arrangement included the same line, “Johnny C’s in trouble,” that Coulton used in his earlier alteration of the original song. Coulton, however, claims that he did not give permission to Glee for the use of his arrangement, nor did he know about Glee‘s song in advance. On his blog, Coulton points out that while his own work was a cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s song, in addition to changing some lyrics, he wrote an entirely new melody in his version–a melody that Glee‘s recording used without permission.
While Coulton has been speaking forth publicly about the incident, currently he has not received an apology from Fox Broadcasting. Rather, on his personal blog, Coulton reports that Fox Broadcasting representatives told him that “they’re within their legal rights to do this, and that [Coulton] should be happy for the exposure.” Ironically, Coulton notes, he does not have any officially sanctioned Glee exposure given that Fox does not publicly acknowledge that his version of the song influenced the Glee version.
The ease with which Fox has used Coulton’s intellectual property has incensed many and raised the question of where the line should be drawn between fair use and copyright infringement. Yet many copyright scholars have agreed with Fox’s position that the Glee rendition of “Baby Got Back,” complete with its use of Coulton’s original creative contribution, is legal under the same rules that enabled Coulton to make a cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s original work. One blogger makes the case, however, that this situation is entirely different from other instances of fair use such as consumers purchasing fake designer handbags, “where there’s no intent to fool the purchaser, who understands that a 99% discount Vuitton bag means that it’s really a ‘Vuitton’ bag.” Instead, Glee has misled the consumer “about the origin of a product we’re being asked to purchase.”
Despite the fact that Coulton has yet to receive an apology from Fox, Coulton is not letting Glee get the better of him. In addition to publicly discussing the situation with his fans and journalists, Coulton has released a “cover” of Glee‘s “Baby Got Back” cover. You can download Coulton’s cover on iTunes for .99 cents with all proceeds going to charity.
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