Songs from the upcoming Glee episode, “Sadie Hawkins,” hit the internet this morning, and with them came an accusation of plagiarism from musician Jonathan Coulton. Coulton took to Twitter shortly after the songs were released:
– Jonathan Coulton (@jonathancoulton) January 18, 2013
After listening, I think that @gleeonfox may have even used parts of my recording. Do I hear a duck quack? And of course they say “Johnny C”
— Jonathan Coulton (@jonathancoulton) January 18, 2013
Listening to the arrangements of the song, set to introduce Kurt’s potential love interest Adam (Oliver Kieran-Jones) and his group the Adam’s Apples, it’s undeniable that they’re similar – they’re all but identical. Take a listen:
Glee representatives have yet to comment, but plausible deniability isn’t really in the cards; especially considering this isn’t the first time this has happened. In late 2011, the show was criticized for using an arrangement of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” that was a little too similar to one performed by Greg Laswell. Similar to Coulton, Laswell wasn’t contacted or credited when the song was used.
UPDATE: This just happened. (Alex Anders is a music producer on Glee)
Morally, it’s pretty reprehensible to just appropriate his arrangement without so much as a credit or even a thank you, but legally? It’s complicated. Coulton paid a “Compulsory License” fee for the rights to record and perform the song, but that doesn’t offer him much protection. The Verge broke it down for everyone:
While musicians are allowed to make stylistic changes to songs as they cover them, their reworkings of the original song aren’t protected by copyright unless they get permission from the original songwriter — the song itself still belongs to the songwriter, after all. So Coulton’s version of “Baby Got Back” isn’t his to offer up for sale or licensing;Glee can use his changes without permission or even credit. (If Glee’s producers used clips of Coulton’s actual recording, like the duck sound, it’s different: that would be copyright infringement of his sound recording.) (x)
Coulton’s main concern seems to be that they actually did use clips from his recording. He posted the following on his website:
UPDATE 1/18: No word from Glee or Fox, but I’ve seen screenshots of the song on Swedish iTunes listed with artist = Glee Cast. My lawyers are researching the copyright issues, and I am trying to figure out how to isolate the duck quack, or otherwise test the theory that some of my tracks are in there. This side-by-side comparison is crazy:
What do you think, Gleeks? In a world where everyone has a YouTube channel, once a cover is out there, is it fair game? Should we be surprised by a show that is essentially a karaoke dramedy using arrangements other than the originals? Will Fox apologize to Coulton, or even acknowledge him?
Sound off below.