What you may not know about The Beastie Boys and GoldieBlox’s legal battle.
Saturday morning I logged onto Facebook and ranted to my friends about the fact that The Beastie Boys appeared to be trying to sue GoldieBlox—the company that is marketing a very cool Rube Goldberg-type of engineering toy to girls—for using a parody of their sexist 1980s hit song “Girls” in their commercial.
[A]ccording to a lawsuit filed on Thursday by the toy company, “the Beastie Boys have now threatened GoldieBlox with copyright infringement.” Lawyers for the Beastie Boys contend the GoldieBlox video, according to the company’s court filing, “is a copyright infringement, is not a fair use and that GoldieBlox’s unauthorized use of the Beastie Boys intellectual property is a ‘big problem’ that has a ‘very significant impact.’”
The GoldieBlox filing comes in response to those alleged legal threats, asking a federal court in California to provide “declaratory relief” in the dispute.
The parody is fantastic and the ad is awesome. Three little girls walk away from a TV where they’re being told how important it is to be pretty, and they set up an awesome Mousetrap-style contraption around their home using their girlie toys. It’s pretty genius marketing, especially considering that so many of us parents who have elementary-aged kids grew up listening to The Beastie Boys and we know every word of the original song.
So it felt sort of ick that the Beastie Boys seemed to be trying to stop the re-appropriation of their song to such a great cause…
But here’s the problem with our anger at the Beasties: The Boys actually have not brought legal action against GoldieBlox for their use of the song. Instead, GoldieBlox filed a pre-emptive strike against the Beasties to keep themselves (GoldieBlox) from being sued by the Beasties.
The Huffington Post updated an article at 10:24pm EST on Sunday which clarified this mess:
A representative for the Beastie Boys explained: “There was no complaint filed, no demand letter (no demand, for that matter) when [GoldieBlox] sued Beastie Boys.”
Beyond the fact that the Beasties have long pledged not to use their music in advertising, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (aka MCA) had a contingency in his will that no Beastie Boys song could be sold for advertising purposes. No matter how great the product was.
A 2012 article in Rolling Stone explains:
The Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch prohibited the use of his music and “artistic property” for advertising purposes after his death, according to his will, which was filed on Tuesday in Manhattan Surrogate court.
“Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes,” reads a copy of the will obtained by Rolling Stone. The phrase “or any music or any artistic property created by me” was added in handwriting.
Upon learning that, I did a complete 180. I can’t think of anything less jerky than honoring the wishes set forth by your dear friend in his will.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the highly progressive Beastie Boys are big fans of progressing kids’ toys past the gender constrictions we’re currently stuck in. But they don’t need to break a legal, binding document to do so.
So, to the Beastie Boys, I’m sorry for assuming the worst based on a few early blog posts. Standing by your friend and partner’s wishes and your own ethical code is a stand-up thing to do. Keep rockin’.
And GoldieBlox, keep making cool stuff. I hope next you’ll make some domestic toys that are geared toward boys. My kids would love some “boyish” dolls that aren’t war-based, and some awesome play kitchen gadgets!
Update: The Beastie Boys have released an open letter to GoldieBlox. You can read the whole thing on the New York Times, but this excerpt pretty much sums it up:
We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.
As creative as it is, make no mistake, your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads.
When we tried to simply ask how and why our song “Girls” had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US.