Glee is known for its quirky song covers, but what happens when it covers a cover?
On Thursday, the Fox series staged a countrified, banjo-infused performance of the Sir-Mix-A-Lot song "Baby Got Back" that sounded exactly like the one put out by musician and geek hero Jonathan Coulter on his 2005 album Thing a Week One. Coulton had learned that the show was planning on doing so a week earlier, after a web user uploaded an audio file of the Glee version online. Despite his inquiries and protestations, the show went ahead with broadcasting the song, leading to even further anger on Friday.
"Well, they aired it, seemingly unchanged. And it’s now for sale in the US iTunes store," Coulton wrote on his blog. "They also got in touch with my peeps to basically say that they’re within their legal rights to do this, and that I should be happy for the exposure (even though they do not credit me, and have not even publicly acknowledged that it’s my version – so you know, it’s kind of SECRET exposure)."
Because Coulton himself covered the song, and so no copyright was violated, he acknowledged he has a harder path to legal recourse. If Glee used his actual audio, though, he could pursue that violation.
"While they appear not to be legally obligated to do any of these things, they did not apologize, offer to credit me, or offer to pay me, and indicated that this was their general policy in regards to covers of covers," he continued. "It does not appear that I have a copyright claim, but I’m still investigating the possibility (which I consider likely) that they used some or all of my audio."
Glee has had plenty of celebrity guest stars, but has rankled several musicians, including the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, who rebuffed the show's offer to have his music on the show and ripped co-creator Ryan Murphy. Last April, the singer Gotye was angered over Glee's rendition of his song "Somebody I Used to Know," calling it "dinky and wrong."
The singing competition X-Factor, which also airs on Fox, often scours the internet for cover versions and song mashups, and instructs its contestants to sing the altered versions, as well.
Fox and producer 20th Television declined comment.