Did 'Glee' Steal Song From Indie Singer Jonathan Coulton?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on February 04, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Is Fox's "Glee" stealing songs from performers without permission? That's what indie singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton is saying. He claims that "Glee" producers stole his 2005 arrangement of "Baby Got Back," On The Media reports.

What's worse, the "Glee" version of the 1992 Sir Mix-A-Lot song, which Coulton claims is based on his arrangement, is being sold on iTunes for $1.29. That's 30 cents more than Coulton's rendition, which is also available for download.

Does "Glee" have the legal right to take Coulton's work, even if it's a derivative of someone else's work?

Jonathan Coulton insists he isn't vexed about the money part of this deal (i.e., that he didn't see a penny for his arrangement of the song allegedly being stolen). He told Wired it's about the recognition and goodwill.

But Coulton claims that Fox and "Glee's" producers didn't even contact him to use his arrangement. In fact, Coulton mentions on his blog that Fox contacted him after the show, informing him that they were within their rights to take his arrangement and that he should be thankful to them for the exposure.

Does the little guy stand a chance against Fox in a legal battle? Unlikely.

Coulton has been talking to his lawyers, but his chances are slim. Indeed, Coulton himself had to purchase a license to make a cover of the song.

Then his cover is the one that allegedly got used by Fox.

His only recourse at this stage comes to the use of Coulton's original audio. Coulton claims that he is looking into whether actual audio clips of his were used in the "Glee" version.

But going back to the main copyright issue, a cover of a cover isn't as protected as the original work.

While Coulton may not end up having a huge victory against Fox or the producers of "Glee," his plight has been heard by many others who claim the same: That "Glee" allegedly lifted their arrangements.

Is it fair to these independent artists that "Glee" is using a loophole in copyright law to produce "original" covers of other people's covers? According to Fox, and the law, it apparently is. But artists like Jonathan Coulton would say otherwise.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard