Musician Claims 'Glee' Stole His Version of 'Baby Got Back'

Jonathan Coulton Ryan Murphy Inset - H 2013
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Jonathan Coulton Ryan Murphy Inset - H 2013

Jonathan Coulton maintains the Fox show used his banjo-infused cover of the hip-hop song without credit.

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 1992 Sir-Mix-A-Lot hit "Baby Got Back" that sounded exactly like the one put out by musician and geek hero Jonathan Coulton on his 2005 album Thing a Week One. Coulton had learned what the show was planning on doing so a week earlier, after an audio file of the Glee version was posted online. Despite his inquiries and protestations, the show went ahead with broadcasting the song, leading to even further anger Friday.

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"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, meaning no copyright was violated, he acknowledged he has a harder path to legal recourse. If Glee had used his actual audio, though, he could pursue that violation.

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"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 Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, who rebuffed the show's offer to use his music and ripped co-creator Ryan Murphy. In April, the singer Gotye was angered over Glee's rendition of his hit "Somebody That I Used to Know," calling it "dinky and wrong."

Singing competition The 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.