Glee made its name on enthusiastic unoriginality. The hit TV show, in which high school teens sing syrupy-sweet covers of famous pop tunes, has never really relied on new musical material. But the cover arrangements on the show are often very original—smart, interesting reharmonizations and mash-ups that often make even the tiredest pop tunes sound fresh.
However, with one of their arrangements for next week's episode, Glee appears to have flagrantly stolen an arrangement from geeky songwriter Jonathan Coulton.
Here's Coulton's arrangement, which was first released on his 2006 album Thing a Week One.
And here's the Glee version, which will be in the eleventh episode of season four, "Sadie Hawkins," and will air next week on the 24th.
...Yeah. It's more than a similaritiy—it is a straight-up, near-total copy. Sometimes there's wiggle room on this kind of thing, but not here. The phrasing, the instrumentation, even the reharmonization at "Baby got Back"—it's all identical. It's even in the same key.
As Coulton put it on twitter:
After listening, I think that @gleeonfox may have even used parts of my recording. Do I hear a duck quack? And of course they say "Johnny C"— Jonathan Coulton (@jonathancoulton) January 18, 2013
The only caveat here is that the Glee episode containing the cover hasn't aired yet, and so the YouTube version is the only one we've got to go on. The Glee Wiki describes the song's appearance in detail, but the FOX website doesn't mention the tune. "Baby Got Back" is not among the Glee season 4 songs for sale on iTunes.
I've reached out to both Coulton and FOX for comment, and will update this story when I hear back.
Update: It appears that the track, while currently not available on the US iTunes store,
was may have been available earlier and was pulled by Fox. The track is still available elsewhere, like on the Swedish iTunes store.
Update 2: I've been emailing with Coulton today; he's exploring the legal side of the whole thing, and says that the legal aspect (surprise, surprise) is complicated. Still no word from FOX.