The internet is aflame with the controversy. FOX’s most recent episode of gLee featured a fun little re-arrangement of hip-hop classic, Baby Got Back. The show has paved its way by covering songs from all walks of music. They usually do it well. I am a fan of gLee myself, and I am by no means a purist when it comes to creatively putting your own twist on a classic song. Hell, you don’t even really need permission to cover a song if it meets certain parameters, but it does show respect to the original artist. This is even the method perscribed to by Weird Al Yankovick, who almost always gets permission to parody a song. Copywrite and covers are murky waters. Anyone who is involved in making fan art knows this. Usually as long as the source is attributed, there’s no issue.
Sadly, this arrangement is not a gLee original, and they did not give any attribution to the artist. Johnathan Coulton, who is widely known throughout the Geek Empire for such wonderful creations like “Still Alive” from Portal, and the theme song for Code Monkeys, an 8bit cartoon about programmers, and so much more geeky music, first created this specific arrangement of the song used in the FOX show. Being as how this is a cover and not a parody, Coulton gained the rights to use the lyrics and distribute the cover for commercial gain from the owners. Once he had this permission, he wrote his own melody, which is completely unique and original from the source material, and he even changed a few phrases to better fit his vision. For instance, he traded out Mix-A-Lot’s self reference for his own, referring to himself in the song as “Johnny C.” This change ended up in the gLee version. There’s not even a character named John in the show, so what’s up with that? Why not change it to fit the character in the show?
There is also some very compelling evidence, that not only did gLee cover Coulton’s version of the song, but they actually used his recording. This guy, opened up both songs in a sound editing program and found a part where Coulton uses a duck sound effect to cover up the word “Fuck”. The gLee arrangement shows a ghost of a sound effect covered up with “Ah’s “. He explains it better than I do, so check it out here. Having gone to school for media arts, I can say that though I am not a sound engineer, I do have some basic training in sound editing, and his extrapolations are legit. Meaning that if gLee had made their own recording, he would not have found the ghost like remains of editing out a sound effect.
Here‘s a fun little remix of both versions. The only editing that has been done is that the songs were laid on top of eachother so they would play at the same time. It is almost impossible to make two different recordings of the same song line up so perfectly. You would usually be able to hear one side or the other slightly delayed. Play with some tuning forks sometime, and you’ll see what I mean. This is just further evidence that the audio track was ripped off, and not re-recorded.
Anyway, you can keep up to date with Johnathan Coulton on his blog. So far, he does not intend to sue FOX, but he has as of now, re-released his song on itunes as a cover of gLee‘s cover of his cover of Baby Got Back. All proceeds in February will be going to charity.