Johnny C’s In Trouble


I have a confession to make: I loved the first season of the show Glee. As a theater kid in high school, I could very easily relate to the loser mentality the McKinley High Glee Club was subjected to week upon week – and while our little theater troupe was never as talented as what New Directions showed, we’d still pull it together in time for our performances of Li’l Abner, Oklahoma!, or Bye Bye, Birdie. I related to those kids, I knew what it was like to be the underdog.

Since then, though, I haven’t watched. I felt that Glee was perfectly told in one season – the story of losers who lost a competition, but ultimately ‘levelled up’ in their own lives, for lack of a better term. I saw a few episodes of season two, and nothing over the last two seasons. It seemed overkill to keep investing in the lives of these kids who, in my eyes, had reached the apex of their character development – and from what I’ve heard, that’s fact. Kurt is still Kurt. Finn is still Finn. Rachel is still a psycho diva.

Over the last couple of weeks, however, I was drawn back into the world of Glee, but not because of a stunning plot point or character beat – rather, it was because of theft. The musical director and producers of the show saw fit to cover a version of the song Baby Got Back that had been performed by independent musician and geek god Jonathan Coulton – which would be all well and good, had he been credited, mentioned, hinted at, or even just given a good old fashioned ‘Sup’ on the Glee on Fox Twitter feed. Instead, Fox and the production and directorial staff of Glee have instead either taken a radio silence approach at best, or at worst an antagonistic, ‘He should be thankful for the exposure’ bully mentality.

Am I taking this personally? As a long time fan of JoCo, I am, so looking at this objectively is difficult. Was it slightly thrilling to hear the telltale chord progression of Coulton’s cover of Baby Got Back when I was gleefully (see what I did there?) ignorant of the situation? You bet it was – my head swam at the idea of maybe having an entire episode of Glee  covering JoCo and Paul & Storm songs – I’d love to hear the talented singers and musicians cover songs like Nun Fight, Furry Old Lobster, and A Talk With George. But as I read more and more into the situation, I realized that this was another case of a corporate 500 pound gorilla throwing its weight around against a 150 pound chimpanzee. (On a somewhat related note – I would have loved to have heard a cover of Code Monkey being performed as the kids attended a computer science class, or something along those lines.)

While it doesn’t appear as if there’s any legal action that can be taken – unless it’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Fox and Glee completely lifted his instrumental track – the justice delivered in the court of public opinion has been swift. Geek sub-culture icon Wil Wheaton has been particularly vocal on the matter, as have been Paul & Storm and Hank Green. Glee musical director Alex Anders made an off handed remark on twitter about people needing to see things as an ‘opportunity’, and subsequently deleted the post when people had a negative reaction. (Though you can still see the backpedal tweet here.) It’s a downward spiral, and one I personally don’t feel that Glee will easily recover from. Wired has reported that other independent artists – DJ Earworm and Greg Laswell are noted in the article – have also made identical claims to those of Coulton.

As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t appear as if legally there’s much that can be done about this. However, where legality ends, opinion reigns. And I can say without hesitation, that opinion here is heavily in the corner of Jonathan Coulton.

Jay Malone


One comment

  1. Though not a fan of the show (certain show themes don’t encourage my viewership), the notion that a big corporation is doing an artist a favor by utilizing that artist’s content for their own profit is repugnant. Whether a cover of an artist’s work is covered by copyright or not, I’m a little vague on that subject- but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t an issue of licensing involved. Even the performance of “Happy Birthday” requires a licensing fee, if my understanding of the issue is correct.

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