What do you do, as an artist, when your work is blatantly stolen and you have little legal recourse?
You make it a PR win.
That’s exactly what indie musician Jonathan Coulton is doing right now.
You may be familiar with his rendition of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1992 hit “Baby Got Back.” Or you may not be. You should, though, because it’s fantastic:
It is a distinctive, folksy take on an early-hip hop favorite.
Well, when the TV show Glee chose to include the song, they used Coulton’s arrangement. And even kept some of the lyrics he changed. Like the one saying, “Johnny C is in trouble.”
The full royalties from the song are going to Sir Mix-A-Lot (I’m sure there are other writers, producers, etc who get a cut, but let’s just use the good Sir to mean his people, too.), while Coulton gets nothing. Since Glee covered a cover, they are only legally liable to the original version. It’s apparently a legal loophole Glee has crept through before.
So what’s an indie artist with a cult following to do with this lemon?
Make some sweet, sweet lemonade.
Coulton has re-released his version on several digital platforms, including iTunes, Google Play and Amazon. In a nice little, snarky twist, he labeled the song in all locations “Baby Got Back (In the Style of Glee).”
He also pledged all proceeds from the songs by the end of February (after fees and such) will be split between VH1’s Save the Music Foundation and The It Gets Better Project.
Without a doubt, Coulton comes out of this situation a clear winner.
His version now has a greater audience, he’s supporting two causes that one would think would be of interest to Glee’s target audiences, his story has been told by numerous publications. Assuredly, people will check out his catalog of original music and make some purchases. And he’s now more of a household name than ever before.
Glee/Fox on the other hand, look, ironically, like white collar bullies, sliding through legal gray areas and disregarding an amazing artist.
Imagine the audience they could have attracted if they worked WITH Coulton to promote the episode in a positive way? Instead of using an indie guy with a cult following to draw new or lapsed eyeballs to their programming, they made enemies. Sure, we’re not talking about tens of millions of people, but every bit helps.
Coulton gets the easy PR win here.