Jonathan Coulton Publicly Shames Fox For Copying His Arrangement In Glee

from the social-mores dept

We’ve talked about Jonathan Coulton and his embrace of the internet and new business models plenty on Techdirt — as well as his nuanced arguments concerning copyright infringement. He’s not “pro-piracy,” but recognizes that the overall growth of the internet that has resulted in more infringement has also created tremendously valuable tools and services that made his music career possible. Thus, recognizing that the two things go hand in hand, he notes that it’s better in the long run. So what does he do when someone infringes on his rights? Well, he goes public.

As some have noted, Coulton has called out Fox for apparently copying his arrangement of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” in the TV show Glee. You can see his version here:

And then there’s the Glee version, which is quite similar, and includes a few of Coulton’s own additions:

Yes, his is a cover song, but he introduced some variations that appear to be directly copied in Glee. Is there a potential copyright claim here? Well, that depends — and the copyright law here is complex. You can cover a song by paying compulsory license fees, and Fox likely did that to whoever holds the copyright on the original. But they copied specific changes (and possibly the music) that Coulton added, which could potentially be covered by his own copyright (of course, whether or not he registered them could also impact what he could do about it). And let’s not even get into the issue of things like sync licenses for video, and the (still open) question of whether or not Glee actually used part of Coulton’s own recording.

In the end, though, almost none of that probably matters. Because Coulton seems unlikely (we hope) to go legal here. Instead, he’s just going with the public shame route — with a simple tweet about the situation, which has set off “the internet” to help him make his case and embarrass Fox and Glee.

Internet sleuths immediately went to work on the question, creating side-by-side comparisons of the audio (which are very convincing) and even unearthing an official Fox version of the as-yet-unreleased single in the Swedish iTunes store. While the track is not currently available in the American store, gaming blog Kotaku claims that it “was available earlier and was pulled by Fox.” Despite calls from Twitter and multiple media organizations, the network has yet to make a statement as of this afternoon, but, all things considered, it’s looking pretty bad for Glee.

Of course, as a public storm of support rises behind Coulton, it seems likely that Fox/Glee producers will step up, apologize and probably cut Coulton a check of some sort. All of that seems a lot more efficient — and it didn’t require copyright law at all. Just a bit of public shaming for a bad actor. Of course, just imagine if the situation had been reversed, and Coulton was caught making use of a News Corp.-owned song. In that case, you’d have to imagine that the cease and desist letters and lawyers would have popped up quite quickly….

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Comments on “Jonathan Coulton Publicly Shames Fox For Copying His Arrangement In Glee”

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130 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

” Is there a potential copyright claim here? Well, that depends — and the copyright law here is complex. You can cover a song by paying compulsory license fees, and Fox likely did that”

Good lord – learn the law if you are going to comment on it – you CAN NOT get a “compulsory license” for a AV Sync license if MUST be negotiated with the songwriters and publishers and it can be denied… so no, Fox did NOT do what Jonathan did as the bar for Glee is much higher than a cover for an album.

PLEASE LEARN THE ACTUAL LAW BEFORE COMMENTING INCORRECTLY

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t think you are correct there.
Anything you add has it’s own copyright. Remember the expression

“Change a word and take a third..”

Interestingly, US copyright law is based on statute, rather than ersatz nursery rhymes. From 17 USC S115:

A compulsory license includes the privilege of making a musical arrangement of the work to the extent necessary to conform it to the style or manner of interpretation of the performance involved, but the arrangement shall not change the basic melody or fundamental character of the work, and shall not be subject to protection as a derivative work under this title, except with the express consent of the copyright owner.

Coulton admits to releasing the cover under a mechanical (compulsory/statutory) license. He has never indicated he got any permission beyond that to create a derivative work.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Whether he got permission or not doesn’t alter the situation in the way you describe.

The author of an infringing derivative work still holds the copyright on the alterations. A third party cannot use that material without his consent (or a mechanical license). They also need the permission of the original copyright holder but that is another story.

Whether he relied on the mechanical license to create his version doesn’t affect the copyright situation.

If his version is sufficiently distinct that a copy of his version is identifiable as such then I would say that it is prima facie evidence that he HAS created a derivative work and hence holds a copyright. He is also in violation of the terms of the mechanical license but that is another matter.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

the arrangement shall not change the basic melody or fundamental character of the work, and shall not be subject to protection as a derivative work

Further to my previous comment I note that those who make arrangements of public domain works tend to claim that the tiniest amount of their input generates a new copyright. If what you say is correct then, for consistency, the arrangers of pubic domain works should leave their own output in the public domain when their changes would have been an acceptable arrangement under the mechanical license if the work was copyrighted.

They don’t though. Hmmm

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Did you read the statutory excerpt?

This is a specific case address with specific rules under the statute: arrangements under a compulsory license “shall not be subject to protection as a derivative work under this title,e except with the express consent of the copyright owner.”

Also, even under general copyright law, there is conflicting authority as to whether authors of an infringing derivative works hold copyright to their own additions to the work. See Pickett v. Prince.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, they did use his sound recording, and dubbed over it.

Let’s say they used his recorded music without permission and he can sue for copyright violation. The next question is, should he, or should he even accept in any money from them?

Does it put him in the pro-copyright camp to accept payment? Or should he accept payment and donate it to charity?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

agreed. coulton has no claim here. he has no part in the master recording or the composition. he did (most likely) an unauthorized remix himself utilizing masters he did not own to a composition he did not right.

there’s nothing confusing going on here. but it does raise an interesting point about Hollywood and Piracy:

http://thetrichordist.com/2012/06/04/how-copyright-encourages-creativity-in-hollywood/

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

he has no part in the master recording or the composition.

Which has no bearing on whether he was copied.

he did (most likely) an unauthorized remix himself utilizing masters he did not own to a composition he did not right.

Others are saying he paid the compulsory license fee to make a cover. Do you have contradictory information, or are you speculating?

rucb_alum (profile) says:

Re: Is there any doubt that FOX ripped off Coulton?

Coulton may not have deserved any payment under copyright law but he certainly deserves creative credit. The idea, arrangement and lyric changes were his NOT the Fox creative team…Not Sir Mix-a-Lot’s. What Fox should have done was credit the arrangement…Not so hard to do. What they did was misrepresent Mr. Coulton’s achievement as their own. That’s skeevey. They should pay up.

rucb_alum (profile) says:

Re: Is there any doubt that FOX ripped off Coulton?

Coulton may not have deserved any payment under copyright law but he certainly deserves creative credit. The idea, arrangement and lyric changes were his NOT the Fox creative team…Not Sir Mix-a-Lot’s. What Fox should have done was credit the arrangement…Not so hard to do. What they did was misrepresent Mr. Coulton’s achievement as their own. That’s skeevey. They should pay up.

Anonymous Coward says:

it seems likely that Fox / Glee producers will step up, apologize and probably cut Coulton a check of some sort

Aside from being bullied into it, why should they cut Coulton a check?

It’s unclear he has any legitimate copyright claim here at all. As far as he has disclosed, Coulton covered the song under a mechanical license without getting permission from the original artist/copyright holder. That’s fine, that’s what mechanical licenses are for. He also rearranged the song, which you’re effectively not supposed to do under a mechanical license, but given that he was playing in a markedly different “style” than the original he might be able to get away with that (legally).

However, it’s clear in the law that without explicit permission, a cover is NOT a derivative work, and as such the arrangement isn’t independently copyrightable. The Glee people would need to get their sync licenses from the original copyright holder and either a direct or mechanical license for the cover.

If they used Coulton’s backing track without re-recording it (maybe they did, maybe they didn’t), that’s a different story, since he may have a legitimate copyright claim on that.

It’s interesting that on TD, when a big conglomerate requires that people get permission to use their work, it’s the awful “permission culture,” but when the shoe is on the other foot and Saint JoCo of the Internet wants to be consulted on all uses of his (probably non-copyrighted) work, it’s yay for vigilante justice!

DCL says:

Re: Re:

It is about hypocrisy here… Fox will use every lawyer around to get people to pay up for using their music (or file a DMCA take down for a few seconds of a song) but have no shame in a what appears to be a blatant copy of the arraignment somebody else did.

I checked the link in the article and listened to the two at the same time and when they are synced it is the same song to the beat and note.

The comment about how likely it is that Fox cuts a check is because that is the only thing Fox understands: money and how to use the complicated laws to get more money now… they don’t understand the real long term culture of music and how to treat it in the long term.

Fox/Glee should have just given credit to Coulton in the first place (it is hard to believe Coulton was not the source) and that would have made this a win/win for both parties. Sure Coulton could have asked for money but based on my knowledge of him he would have taken
the publicity of having his work on Glee over hard cash.

I didn’t research all the facts and it would look really bad if Coulton had released his after Glee.

S L Smith says:

Re: Re: Re:

Don’t worry about you’re last point. Coulton released the song years ago. If I remember right, it was even before Glee was a thing. But I think you’re right. Coulton’s always been good natured about this kind of stuff, so I bet credit would have been enough for him. It seems he’s only pissed about them claiming it as their own.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Aside from being bullied into it, why should they cut Coulton a check?

It’s not about “should.” It’s about showing that if people feel wronged, there are ways to respond that don’t involve the law. I’m not saying that Fox should do something, just that they may realize it’s in their best interest to do so. That’s a system that is functioning without the need to resort to a law.

Basically, the point is not what should be, but that there are mechanisms in place if the public feels someone has been wronged.

It’s unclear he has any legitimate copyright claim here at all.

I agree, for the most part, though there may be copyright in the new parts, but it would be minimal. But, again, that’s not the point of the post.

It’s interesting that on TD, when a big conglomerate requires that people get permission to use their work, it’s the awful “permission culture,” but when the shoe is on the other foot and Saint JoCo of the Internet wants to be consulted on all uses of his (probably non-copyrighted) work, it’s yay for vigilante justice!

Again, the point is that there are ways to deal with this that don’t involve the law — and some of that may include public pressure, whether or not we agree with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

” It’s about showing that if people feel wronged, there are ways to respond that don’t involve the law. I’m not saying that Fox should do something, just that they may realize it’s in their best interest to do so. That’s a system that is functioning without the need to resort to a law.”

You mean like David Lowery and The Trichordist are doing with Advertising Funded Piracy?

http://thetrichordist.com/2013/01/17/golden-globe-winner-adele-exploited-by-american-express-att-british-airlines-target-nissan/

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Umm...

everyone knows (except coulton it appears) that you can’t copyright a remix of someone else’s work.

First of all, it’s a cover, not a remix. Second of all, Glee cleared the performance rights from Sir Mix-a-lot. If they sampled JoCo’s recording, they violated JoCo’s Master Rights, which is ? infringement.

For someone who claims that “everybody knows” a particular “fact”, you don’t seem to know what you’re talking about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

so than he’s not ripped off and there is no copyright issues… how would Glee have used Coulton’s recording when it’s clearly the Glee cast singing the song and not coulton!

also, if you want to check the recordings you could do a “null test” google it – it’s just science and would prove if his recording was used…

PLEASE LEARN THE LAW BEFORE COMMENTING

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

so than he’s not ripped off and there is no copyright issues.

Only if you believe that the only way to rip someone off is by committing copyright infringement, which personally seems idiotic to me at first glance.

also, if you want to check the recordings you could do a “null test” google it – it’s just science and would prove if his recording was used…

I don’t get it, how can you prove whether his recording was used by googling it?

I think I just replied to darryl. Ugh.

Gene Poole says:

Re: Re:

Far as I can see the system works, and it’s further emphasis that copyright isn’t required. Coulton doesn’t need to sue, because the social shaming is doing the rounds and dragging Fox’s name through the dirt. If this isn’t a motivating reason against ripping someone off minus attribution, in this social media age, then I don’t know what is.

Thing is, Coulton isn’t demanding people get his permission as far as I can see, it’s his fans booing Fox for having the gall to pass off this work as original without attribution to the inspiration (at least) behind it. I see no conflict here at all.

Bridget says:

Re: Re:

Why should they? Because they shamelessly copied his work. Legally, they probably don’t need to. But let’s think. The tune and background music that they used are exactly the same. The ONLY thing that they changed was the “dial 1-900-johnny c” (bits that mention his name) and a few of the vocals (how long they hold the note, for the most part).

It’s a matter of morals really. As a person, Johnathan Coulton probably would have been fine with them just CREDITING him. Shit, how hard would it have been to add ONE line in the credits that mentioned his name? It’d be on screen for maybe six seconds, and everything would have been fine and dandy. But instead they decided, “hm. Well, he;s not all that well-known, so maybe nobody will notice if we rip him off.”

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

As a person, Johnathan Coulton probably would have been fine with them just CREDITING him. Shit, how hard would it have been to add ONE line in the credits that mentioned his name?

You realize, though, don’t you, that as content becomes widely available for anyone to use as they wish without having to worry about legal ramifications or paying royalties, there is going to be a lot of copying and reuse without necessarily the proper credit. In fact, once something gets passed around enough, there’s a good chance most people won’t even know who the originator was nor will they care. The idea that you’ll get credit if someone uses your idea with little or no modification is nice, but once all that content is freely flying around, I’m not sure people will bother to check. It’s like folk songs in the public domain. They have been around for years, people perform them as is or modify them, etc. It becomes open source music.

If someone wants to mimic another person’s work (as might be said to be the case with Glee), what’s the harm, especially if lots of people start doing it? As people have pointed on Techdirt all the time, music is a collective effort. Does anyone really own it?

I think if you are going to push the copyright liberation boundaries, you have to expect this and live with it. Isn’t the preferred response supposed to be for Coulton to thank Glee for exposing its fans to his music? Why bother to shame Fox?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think if you are going to push the copyright liberation boundaries, you have to expect this and live with it. Isn’t the preferred response supposed to be for Coulton to thank Glee for exposing its fans to his music?

When probably hundreds or thousands of Fox-owned pieces of media are pirated every day, they need to get over it, accept reality, learn to love the pirates, and decide how they can give even more away.

When one piece of St. JoCo’s music (which is primarily popular because it spoofs an already-wildly-popular rap song) gets (most likely) legally used by Fox, it is appropriate to lawyer up, have moral outrage, and wait for the check and the apology (it’s not clear what the apology would be for, but that’s beside the point).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

When probably hundreds or thousands of Fox-owned pieces of media are pirated every day, they need to get over it, accept reality, learn to love the pirates, and decide how they can give even more away.

When one piece of St. JoCo’s music (which is primarily popular because it spoofs an already-wildly-popular rap song) gets (most likely) legally used by Fox, it is appropriate to lawyer up, have moral outrage, and wait for the check and the apology (it’s not clear what the apology would be for, but that’s beside the point).

You nailed it. Mike is, of course, too dishonest or stupid to see his own duplicity. He just got really excited about the story because it supports his childish “public shaming” theory of the internet world. Amazingly, he probably thinks it’s something new and great, ’cause, you know, it happens on the internet!

Anonymous Coward says:

It is about hypocrisy here…

It sure is. It’s about an Internet artist, who covered a song without the permission or knowledge of the original artist, getting POed because somebody else did the exact same thing to him.

Does he owe Sir Mix-a-Lot a check and an apology for his original cover? Does everybody who covers a song on YouTube in their spare time owe the original artist a check and an apology?

Fox/Glee should have just given credit to Coulton in the first place

The episode supposedly containing this song has not aired yet. So you don’t know what they were or weren’t going to credit. Coulton’s original link on Twitter was to a(n unauthorized?) copy of the song on YouTube, posted by some rando. Most people posting other people’s songs on YouTube don’t go to the trouble of crediting all the personnel involved in that song. The recording engineer wasn’t credited either…so, uh, OUTRAGE?!?

Sure Coulton could have asked for money

He could have asked for a toilet made of solid gold, but without a copyright claim he’s gonna have a tough time getting it.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“getting POed because somebody else did the exact same thing to him”

So he formed a secret spy agency and is going to issue strikes taking away peoples internet access for allegations of file sharing?

I think what went whoosh right over your head is the idea that Fox has no problem screaming that everyone owes them if they copy and once again they had no problem “stealing” (to use their word) from some poor artist.

Stephen J. Anderson says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The problem here is that he’s right, on every point of law. Usually AC’s on here are deceitful and biased, but his interpretation seems to be spot on. Unless Fox copied his audio, he’s got no claim. Of course, what he’s missing is that Coulton is part of a generation of artists who think the business has become too prone to litigation, and who would prefer to connect directly – so mostly, this isn’t about what Fox had to do, it’s about what they ought to do.

Simple Mind (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Through creativity he modified something to sound almost completely different from the original. He made something new. Then someone else copied exactly what he did and didn’t give him any credit for it. That is the problem here. I am all for anyone copying anything from anybody just as long as they admit it is a copy and give credit where it is due.

Adam Duffield says:

Re: Re:

“It’s about an Internet artist, who covered a song without the permission or knowledge”
Okay you clearly dont know what youre talking about. Coulton isnt just a ‘internet artist’, Hes created loads of TV and Video game music like Portals ‘Still Alive’
Second, he GOT permission to do his cover you idiot. He had to pay royalties.

Simple Mind (profile) says:

Re: This is an Absolute Travesty

The real problem with that youtube video is that there is NO VIDEO, probably because of copyright (bullshit) restrictions. I only “watched” enough of it to get the point. But I was hoping for some flaunting of glee girl butts. That would have kept me watching to the end!

That lack of video in that glee video just makes the point stronger.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Of course, just imagine if the situation had been reversed, and Coulton was caught making use of a News Corp.-owned song. In that case, you’d have to imagine that the cease and desist letters and lawyers would have popped up quite quickly….”

From jonathancoulton.com:

“My lawyers are researching the copyright issues…”

So I guess the lawyers pop up quite quickly either way. Oh, Internet…copyright law is for wankers – right up until you make something worth copying…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“So I guess the lawyers pop up quite quickly either way.”

Do you honestly not see the difference between Coulton getting advise on his legal position and the instant – often false or ignorant of fair use and other rights – takedown notices ejected from your beloved corporations? Probably not, you’re too ignorantly single-minded for that.

“Oh, Internet…copyright law is for wankers – right up until you make something worth copying”

…in which case most people are OK with so-called infringement as long as they are correctly attributed (see: most posts here about artists). Copyright isn’t just for wankers like yourself, it’s for everybody. Unfortunately, it’s so completely screwed up that an artist can’t even correctly tell what rights he has without getting the lawyers’ advice. Somehow we’re wrong to criticise this, I suppose.

Oh sorry, were you going to try and base every point on misdirection and distortions of others’ opinions again? I apologise for introducing reality to you yet again…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Do you honestly not see the difference between Coulton getting advise on his legal position and the instant – often false or ignorant of fair use and other rights – takedown notices ejected from your beloved corporations? Probably not, you’re too ignorantly single-minded for that.

And what do you suppose Coulton is getting advice on his legal position for?

…in which case most people are OK with so-called infringement as long as they are correctly attributed

OK, then, please tell us all how this song was attributed when the episode containing it aired. Alternatively, why don’t you tell us all how this song was attributed when it was officially released by Fox.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“And what do you suppose Coulton is getting advice on his legal position for?”

Because he wants to know what his legal position is? Why is that wrong, especially compared to when major labels fired off DMCA notices without considering the fair use rights involved? At least he’s considering the facts before taking action.

“OK, then, please tell us all how this song was attributed when the episode containing it aired. Alternatively, why don’t you tell us all how this song was attributed when it was officially released by Fox.”

Ah, classic misdirection – “I don’t believe you, but YOU do the work to prove my assertions!”. Besides which, you completely miss the point – deliberately, I assume. I was making a general comment, in response to your distortion of the typical attitude of “the internet”. You can’t address this, so you try sending the discussion off to another tangent. Predictable.

Anyway, I never watch Glee and I don’t have access to the credits as they looked when they aired – unless you’re asking me to pirate the show to find out, of course! So, I have no idea. Typically attribution is the major thing such artists care about – i.e. they don’t care about piracy so long as they are attributed correctly as per the CC or other licence used. If Coulton was credited, then I don’t think he’d have this problem. I may be wrong, but my comment was on the general attitude of such artists, not this specific case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Ah, classic misdirection – “I don’t believe you, but YOU do the work to prove my assertions!”.

No, you’re the one making the assertion.

…most people are OK with so-called infringement as long as they are correctly attributed.

If Coulton was credited, then I don’t think he’d have this problem.

This is an interesting assumption. Did you take ten seconds out of your life writing screeds against others to actually see whether Coulton was or wasn’t credited?

Anyway, I never watch Glee and I don’t have access to the credits as they looked when they aired – unless you’re asking me to pirate the show to find out, of course! So, I have no idea.

Or you could, of course, have just used Google to find out. Or read Coulton’s original posting.

I may be wrong, but my comment was on the general attitude of such artists, not this specific case.

Well let’s take two seconds to look at whether this specific case is consistent with your made-up assertion.

You are wrong, by the way:

1. The episode containing this song has not aired yet. Therefore, we have no idea how the song was (going to be) attributed. Now, of course, they might change the credits due to all this hoopla, and we may never know their original intent.

2. The only possibly-official release of this song has been found on iTunes Sweden (why Sweden? Who knows?) Perhaps it’s because of how iTunes is organized, but neither this nor the other Glee covers on iTunes have metadata associated with them indicating the personnel (including the original artist!) Neither the producer, the engineer, the arranger, nor indeed anybody but “Glee Cast” is credited. Should they also be outraged? It seems iTunes on the Web and in the app does not have the equivalent of “liner notes,” although metadata for songs and albums is sometimes provided – if you buy the content.

Coulton’s original post did not point out that they didn’t credit him (because he, like the rest of us, doesn’t know one way or the other whether they will). It was that they didn’t contact him in advance (even though this may not have been legally required, and even though Coulton himself did not get permission from the original artist when he made his cover).

That’s permission culture, plain and simple.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“No, you’re the one making the assertion.”

No, I made some points in response to your blind, false assertion. Do try reading.

“Well let’s take two seconds to look at whether this specific case is consistent with your made-up assertion.”

So, in response to a general point I made that was a response to your claims, you are still trying to derail the discussion into a specific point on this story that I wasn’t making? You can examine Coulton all you want, but it’s not what I was talking about.

I give up. Do try to at least follow what people are actually saying rather than injecting your own reality. Strawmen and moving goalposts are rather tiresome, and just show you have no interest in what I’m actually saying.

You clearly have no interest in addressing the real point (my counterpoint to your bullshit general attack), and so I might as well bid you good day.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Love the copywrong shills automatically assuming Coulter ‘stole’ the song when he got a mechanical licence – wait, to them it is stealing, because he only paid a statutory minimum amount for it, and not money for every copy he made and every play it had (even by Fox). Also, it’s obviously stealing because he’s such a ‘big nobody’ that Fox used his version (coz they’re cheap?) and your coprolite masters Can Do No Wrong ™.

Stephan Kinsella (profile) says:

bad actor?

Agree as usual with most of Masnick’s take, but don’t see why Fox is a “bad actor”–I don’t see that they did anything immoral or wrong whatsoever. Absent copyright, I don’t think there would be anything wrong even with failing to give attribution credit to someone you are copying. I don’t even think it’s bad form. It depends on the context. It’s like dropping footnotes–sometimes it’s appropriate, sometimes it’s overkill.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yah right

Anyone who can hear both versions and not see a ripoff is working/shilling here for Fox.

So many in this debate, including Coulton himself, have used the words “rip off” to describe what’s happened here. It’s a great term if you intend to have unfocused outrage, because it’s not legal, and it’s not well-defined. So it can mean whatever you think it means. Because of this, it’s also a great way to make people feel like some wrong has been committed without actually identifying what wrong was committed.

Would you care to define what “ripped off” means here, and what wrong was committed?

Was it that Coulton wasn’t credited? It’s not clear the song has been officially released, except perhaps on Swedish iTunes (where nobody is credited, not even Sir Mix-a-Lot)

Was it that Coulton’s copyright on the arrangement was infringed? It’s not clear that he has any copyright on the arrangement.

Was it that Coulton’s copyright on the recording was infringed? There is substantial debate over whether the recording was reused or merely well-mimicked.

Was it that nobody asked Coulton’s permission? It’s very likely they didn’t have to. And Coulton covered the original song without permission (though legally) through the mechanical license mechanism. Are you really an advocate of permission culture, where everybody has to ask permission for any creative work they do?

So please, enlighten us all: who was wronged, and how? What is the nature of the ‘ripoff’ here?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Yah right

The nature of the rip-off is twofold:

1) There was zero attribution (the Glee songs normally have who they’re covering in the title, and that wasn’t the case here in the UK Store); and
2) blatant plagiarism, which apparently is enough to get you suspected of being a criminal in the eyes of Fox. But because it’s Coulton pointing this out, he’s apparently a money-grubbing douche.

JesseIsAGirlsName says:

Throw out the law

Throw out the law.

The people at Glee did something pretty low-class here. Correction; REALLY low-class. They stole a creative thought and didn’t give anyone but themselves credit.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the legal side of things that we fail to recognize the simple things. Ethics.

These “writers” stole an idea and should be ashamed. It’s part of a larger problem in the world today that has people thinking, “Well, if there is no consequence, it’s okay to do.”

Screw lawyers, courtrooms, and “who ripped-off who”. The Glee staff knows they did something low. If they had been working under me I; a) would have turned down the idea flat when presented, or b) discovered this and fired the people responsible.

It’s about more than legal consequences, it’s about originality, and having the mindset (as a group) that some things you just don’t do.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Throw out the law

You’re raising the same issues that a lot of creatives have raised (e.g., someone will take my idea and I won’t get credit, someone will take my idea and I won’t get paid).

And usually when they do, at least some people tell them:
(1) their ideas probably weren’t all that original anyway, and/or
(2) the exposure is good for them, and/or
(3) if someone else has figured out how to make money from their ideas maybe they can learn something from the clever people who know how to monetize.

I’m pretty sure that copyright will lose its effectiveness sooner or later. And I think that sooner or later everyone will be copying everyone else and not necessarily giving credit. In some cases they might not want to, in some cases they may not know whom credit, and in some cases it’s just too much hassle to credit every contributor for everything they use or borrow.

I think Coulton has run into what other creatives have or will run into and perhaps he didn’t think it would happen to him.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

The exact replicas are coming

Let’s say a potter makes a unique design and then other companies make the exact same design, same colors, everything. And let’s say there is no trademark on either piece, so that isn’t an issue. Would people expect the copiers to say they made identical copies, or is the design up for grabs?

Let’s say someone snaps a photo, and then someone else goes and makes the same photo — same pose, same lighting, same filters, etc. Is the second person supposed to credit the first photographer with the idea?

With 3D printing, exact replicas are coming.

People can copy lots of stuff and do. In most cases it is just for their personal use, but if there are no copyright laws, I don’t expect to see everyone carefully attributing what they copy to those who first create it.

I’m not putting a value judgement on this. I just think as technology facilitates copying, it will be done.

I don’t see Coulton a victim in this any more than I see anyone who has had his or her work copied without attribution a victim. It is what it is.

The anti-copyright folks like to point to fashion where copying is rampant. The design houses are expected to come out with new stuff all the time and let go of whatever they did last year. So maybe that’s what someone like Coulton needs to do. Once you put it out there, it isn’t yours. You’ve got to move on to the new stuff. The reason this hasn’t been the case with songs is that there is copyright so once you write it or record it, you get to financially benefit for decades. But let’s assume that goes away and the thinking switches from create it and own it, to create it and let it go. An entirely different way to perceive creations and it probably will happen as copyright disappears and the lines between one creator and another blur. One person writes the song. Another arranges it differently. Yet another records it in a manner which may or may not be identical to the first two. Will people trace the history of the song? Will they care?

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: The exact replicas are coming

There’s really a lot to explore in all of this. Is your identity tied up in what you create (in which case you want to stay linked to it) or is your identify tied up in the process of creating, in which case after you have finished, you let it go, share it, invite modification, or whatever?

People who are trying to make a living at creation want to remain linked to the creation for that reason. They want credit. However, if creation isn’t the way one pays the bills, then the financial rewards don’t matter and it becomes a matter of identity/ego. How much do we need/want to be recognized for what we create? Can we do it and let it go? Or, even more so, can we create and encourage people to make it their own for the greater good? How selfless is art/creation?

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: The exact replicas are coming

I’ve very big on the demoncratization of creativity. Rather than have a class of creatives and the fans who follow them, I’d rather encourage everyone to tap into their own creativity. (I’m big on the maker and DIY movements. There’s satisfaction in doing it yourself rather than paying someone else to do it for you.)

In my ideal economic scenario, we would find ways to provide for everyone’s basic needs. Then whatever they want to do with their free time is up to them. They can paint, write songs, perform songs, write books, make stuff, etc. But they don’t need to sell any of it to live. So ownership of creativity becomes much less of a factor because you’re not depending on selling your creativity. It’s there as a common resource. But I am only advocating this vast commons as part of a much larger economic vision.

fishboy says:

Work for pay

The Glee cast doesn’t have to write the songs, but they get paid for showing up and singing and performing in the show. Fox has no problem paying the cast.

Writers for the show get paid for writing scripts and story lines. Fox has no problem with that.

Fox also pays other writers and musicians to arrange other songs for the show. Fox pays musicians to play the backing tracks for other songs they perform. Why shouldn’t they pay Coulton?

Suzanne Lainson and others, you are crazy to think that Coulton shouldn’t be bothered by this. Coulton did the work to arrange the song. Coulton did the work to play the music. Coulton should not just be happy that Glee is exposing his work tho a bigger audience because we have no evidence that Fox was going to let the audience know that this was Coulton’s work.

Coulton always admitted that he use Mix-a-Lot’s lyrics. He paid for that right. Fox just assumes that honesty is not their duty.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Work for pay

Suzanne Lainson and others, you are crazy to think that Coulton shouldn’t be bothered by this. Coulton did the work to arrange the song. Coulton did the work to play the music. Coulton should not just be happy that Glee is exposing his work tho a bigger audience because we have no evidence that Fox was going to let the audience know that this was Coulton’s work.

You’ve missed what I was saying. I’m saying this is where it is all headed and everyone is going to have to adjust to the new realities. I don’t argue for or against copyright because the situation we have now is what we have. Where I have gotten into arguments on Techdirt is when I refuse to buy the idea that getting rid of copyright will be BETTER for artists. No, what I argue is that what will be better for artists is to have an economic system where one doesn’t have to sell one’s creativity to pay the bills. There are other alternatives to consider. Give away your art, but also get food, health care, housing, etc. for little or no money. I like the discussions over at the P2P Foundation because they look at other options than what we have now.

I, too, an skeptical of the “exposure” argument because it still puts creatives into a position to have to sell something. And as I look at overall economic conditions, I think selling anything that isn’t a basic necessity will be hard unless your fans are affluent and have money to spend on what you are selling.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Work for pay

In a supposedly “market based” economy, I don’t see much value given to artists.

Yes, your art can easily be free if other things are free, too. If you live in a world where you don’t have to sell goods/services to survive, then creation for creations’ sake is much more doable.

I see the economic crunch continuing. As wealth concentrates in a few hands, everyone else has to figure out how to get by on little, which is going to penalize artists especially because their fans won’t have the extra cash to support them.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Leaving on a Jet Plane?

I downloaded “Leaving On A Jet Plane” from iTunes, and though I can hear a tiny bit of similarities to JoCo’s “Baby Got Back” cover, it’s clear that JoCo had written his own melody to his version of “Baby Got Back”. Fox/Glee didn’t even bother to do that.

Check it out: http://youtu.be/f4hsC0nRvZM

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

If it’s good for Rupert’s Profit Pockets, it’s fine to steal it; on the other hand, if it appears to takes money from Rupert’s Profit Pockets (whether it actually does or not), he then unleashes the Four Lawyers of the Apocalypse upon to poor unsuspecting schmuck, who gets Ortized into committing suicide.

Yeah, it’s a small world after all… (middle finger pointed Disney-way)

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Crediting people will get blurred

Here. This just came out. My point in all my comments about this is that it will happen far more in the future. Knowing who created what is going to be harder to discern and a lot of people aren’t going to bother.

How Twitter?s new embeds will make social media?s copyright issues even weirder: “… when a Tweet is set loose from its network, carrying with it video, photography, false attribution, and questionable copyright, it ceases to be a part of an ongoing, evolving conversation, and the best practices or expectations of that community no longer matter.”

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Johnny C. Responds in the best way possible?

Check this out: http://www.jonathancoulton.com/2013/01/26/baby-got-back-glee-style/

So JoCo re-released his original cover of “Baby Got Back” as “Baby Got Back (In The Style Of Glee)”, does his best impression of Glee’s trademarked “Wink-and-L-Sign”, and donates all the proceeds to the VH1 Save The Music foundation and Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project.

Folks, this is not just winning the court of public opinion; this is analogous to winning a unanimous Supreme Court verdict. Also, Karma seemed to have entered the fray, seeing as I’m writing this, This charity single of “Baby Got Back (In The Style Of Glee)” is at position #164 on the US overall music chart????and Glee’s ripoff version is nowhere to be found! Oh frabjous day! Callooh, Callay!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Johnny C. Responds in the best way possible?

your kidding right? there are literally hundreds of “in the style of glee” covers on itunes and now coulton’s is just another one, so what?

no one can stop him from making and releasing the cover, and no one can stop any one else under the law.

coulton has benefited from the law, but he wants more benefits than the law allows. Is techdirt suggesting stronger protections in copyright for artists than currently exist?

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Johnny C. Responds in the best way possible?

your kidding right? there are literally hundreds of “in the style of glee” covers on itunes and now coulton’s is just another one, so what?

Except that Coulton made no changes whatsoever to his “cover of a cover of a cover” as compared to his original cover. In other words, IT’S THE EXACT SAME SONG AS THE ONE ON THE FIRST THING-A-WEEK DISC!!! But people are buying it up anyway (some of which already have the Coulton’s original arrangement from the Thing-A-Week series, myself included) in a show of solidarity.

Is techdirt suggesting stronger protections in copyright for artists than currently exist?

If you actually read Michael Masnick’s post here, he is not suggesting that at all. If anything, he is suggesting that ? is not necessary because JoCo decided to go the public shame route. If you’re conflating the commenters here with the official position of Masnick, Geigner, Beadon, Paley, etc., I would suggest that you stop because the commenters’ positions are representative of their own and not the site. But then again, that should go without saying.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Does Glee really have to credit an arranger?

Here’s a much more famous example of Glee copying an arrangement. Did Glee ever credit where the inspiration came from? Of course, even if they didn’t, it was totally unnecessary because people already knew.

Folks, there are going to be mimics and homages all the time, and credit isn’t going to be given in each case. In fact, it may not be given on the assumption that you “get” it. Perhaps Glee thought Coulton was more famous than Coulton views himself.

Streisand/Garland Duet and The Glee Reprise Rachel/Kurt | BillRisser.com

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Does Glee really have to credit an arranger?

And here is a mash up for the two videos.

Get Happy & Happy Days Are Here Again – Glee’s Kurt & Rachel w/ Barbra & Judy – YouTube

Did Glee have to tell people, “We’re copying Judy and Barbra” or did they figure fans would already know or word-of-mouth would do the job for them? Perhaps shows like Glee won’t bother identifying the inspiration and it’s up to the fans to figure it out themselves. Kind of a game.

Again I’m not saying how things should or shouldn’t be. I’m just pointing out that when people can copy, they will copy, and for various reasons the source of the idea may or may not be identified.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Does Glee really have to credit an arranger?

That could be a great idea, but the person they’re copying should be in the know.

I have many friends in creative fields (and I have been a professional writer myself in some capacity for more than 30 years), so I can understand the annoyance when a work is copied without credit.

However, I think there’s been a bit of a double standard for Coulton because he has friends in the tech community. Other people who have said their ideas have been “ripped off” haven’t gotten equal support on the issue. He was no more or less ripped off than other people whose ideas are copied or mimicked. I think rampant copying is where we’re headed and we all need to adjust accordingly.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

What's the bigger solution?

I keep coming back to the fact that showing outrage on Coulton’s behalf without looking at bigger picture issues is something of a double standard.

If people expect credit to be given for every creative work, how will this be implemented? How do you enforce a “full credit society?” How many years and through how many modifications should credit be attached?

Should we have more sites like these so we can be ever vigilant when a work is copied/used/modified/mimicked without credit?

Who stole my pictures? :: Add-ons for Firefox

you thought we wouldn’t notice

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: What's the bigger solution?

The only double standard here is with Fox. They are one of the group of corporations fighting against every new technology with whining about piracy. Coulton is one of a group of people who accepts the reality that his work will be used in ways for which he didn’t give prior permission, but rather than fight the inevitable he only asks for credit.

Whereas Fox demands payment for every use of their material, Coulton merely requests that his work has his name associated with it. This is easily implemented, all it takes is the honesty of those redistributing his work – and said credit is always given with pirated material since it takes more work to remove the credit than keep it. However many iterations is irrelevant – if someone created something they should be credited, even if a sample is used from a work 10 times removed from the original.

As for sites logging instance where uncredited work is noticed, I don’t see why this would be a bad thing. If an artist creates something then their work is replicated without credit, this should be pointed out so that the copying artist is exposed as who he is. That’s not a bad thing, and it’s infinitely better than the more common legal solutions that rarely benefit anyone other than the lawyers.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: What's the bigger solution?

What I have been saying is that what happened to Coulton happens to others, but he’s gotten more attention/outrage because he’s visible in the tech community. I’d like to see more consistent standards. My thoughts are that there will be more unattributed use/sharing as the amount of it increases. So I’d like to see more dialogue on who credits a work, who should get credit, what happens when someone doesn’t get credit, etc.

I lean heavily toward the democratization of art, which means I think technology will enable more people to make it. But in the process, figuring out who made what contribution to each creative work will become less the norm. I think the outrage over Coulton is a bit of a step backwards. I can certainly understand why he’s upset, but I think what happened to him will become very typical.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What's the bigger solution?

Here’s a great example I am facing today. A Facebook friend (I’ll call him Sam) just shared a photo on his page. The credit for the photo goes to someone (I’ll him Doug) who used the photo as his cover shot. Since I want to share the photo, too, but I always want to make sure the actual photographer gets credit, went to Doug’s page to see more info about the photo. There is none. And looking at Doug’s Facebook page, there is no indication that he takes photos. So I am guessing he took the photo from somewhere without giving credit to the photographer. Since I am not Doug’s Facebook friend, I can’t comment under the photo to ask who took it.

The next step I took was to look for the photo in Google images. But I couldn’t find it.

Finally I shared the link to the photo (but just to the photo, not to Doug’s page) asking if anyone recognizes the photo and who took it.

Now, how many people do you think would go to so much trouble just to share a photo on Facebook?

I saw the photo because Sam shared it. According to Facebook, it is now being treated as Doug’s photo. I could have shared it, too, as Doug’s photo, but decided not to because I didn’t want to encourage the world to think it is Doug’s photo until I have confirmed it. But basically, the more it gets shared as Doug’s photo, the more the world will perceive it as Doug’s photo until someone points out that isn’t. But by then, it will have been shared so much as Doug’s photo, I doubt people will go back and give the original photographer the proper credit.

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