Exhibit A: Jonathan Coulton’s cover of “Baby Got Back,” released 8/14/2005.
Exhibit B: Glee’s cover of “Baby Got Back,” due to air on 1/24/2013
There’s (understandably) a lot of anger on the internet about this. My friend Kris Straub wrote, “We have to end this idea that if it’s on the internet, it’s fair game for anyone to take and use. Maybe this is the event to do it.”
I’m also very angry about this blatant knockoff of Jonathan’s music, it feels to me like a huge powerful network is bullying an independent musician. But I also want to be careful not to overreact. The idea that things on the internet are free to take and use is very important to me - that’s how Jonathan was able to make his remix of the original Sir Mix-a-Lot song. The key distinction here lies in the word “use.”
I wrote about this a little bit back when a famous, powerful designer ripped off some work by my friends (and later got an apology right here on this very blog from that famous designer), and my friend Austin Kleon wrote to say, “It’s clear he *hasn’t* read my book [Steal like an Artist]. Imitation is not flattery. Tranformation is flattery.”
I think it’s clear that “taking and using” things on the internet is fine if you’re transforming them, and less fine if you’re copying them. It’s even less fine than that if you’re copying them to make a profit, and less fine still if you’re in a position of power over the person you’re copying from.
It’s also clear to me that we (i.e. the internet) have well-established options for responding to this kind of bullying.
- Name and shame: PtotheJizzle (the music supervisor for Glee)
- Email FOX PR and ask for a comment: Email Gaude Lydia Paez at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for a comment from FOX on the story. If you have a blog, you are a media outlet. You have no idea how quickly a few requests for comment can move the needle at an organization like FOX.
- Call FOX’s legal department: Call the switchboard for FOX Broadcasting, (310)369-3553 and ask for their legal department. They connected me right away. Calmly tell them the story, and ask them to look into it, and then thank them for their time. The goal here isn’t to make their lawyers feel bad, it’s to create an impression within FOX that this is a big deal.
Let’s keep fighting the good fight, and stand up for our friends when they get bullied. But let’s also remember the values that got us where we are, and make sure we are free to share our work and remix others’ work without fear.