Jonathan Coulton, the geek legend who brought us such awesomeness as “Still Alive” (the theme for Portal) and the zombie anthem “Re: Your Brains,” has always had a special place in my heart as well for his amazing coffee house rock arrangement of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” Have you heard it? No? Well, the entire audience of the television show Glee heard it the other night. The only problem is, they probably don’t know that’s what they heard.
It might seem a little strange to be up in arms about a cover of a cover – after all, Coulton didn’t write the original. But, well, judge for yourself:
You can read about the particulars of what happened in this interview with Wired, in which he pointed out that “[i]f this were an episode of Glee I would win. The way they’re behaving is so antithetical to the message of their show.” It’s true – it is supposed to be a show about the underdog. And though the law here is far from clear, it’s unlikely that Coulton would have much of a legal case – and definitely unlikely that it would be worth the hassle of fighting it. What’s at issue here is more an ethical issue than a legal one, and judging from the reactions of Coulton’s fans, the ethics are in his favor. There’s no indication in the episode that the arrangement is anything but a Glee original. And this seems even worse considering that Coulton is an independent musician who releases his music under Creative Commons licenses – for a show like Glee whose audience is so much bigger than his, a little acknowledgement could have gone a long way.
So what now? Turns out that Coulton really is a class act. He’s decided to leverage the attention the story is getting into some good. His cover of Glee’s cover (i.e., his original version) is now on sale on iTunes and elsewhere as “Baby Got Back (In the Style of Glee)” and his cut of the proceeds are going to charity – the VH1 Save the Music Foundation and the It Gets Better Project.
So go forth and buy! It really is an awesome song, and his original cover is a million times better than the Glee version.