Don’t Be Mad at the Beastie Boys Because of the GoldieBlox ‘Girls’ Parody Lawsuit

What you may not know about The Beastie Boys and GoldieBlox’s legal battle.

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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.

From Mashable:

[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.

 

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About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is the type of working mom who opens her car door and junk spills out all over the ground. She serves as Executive Editor of The Good Men Project and is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on sites like xoJane, hlntv.com, and The Huffington Post. Joanna loves playing with her sons, skateboarding with her husband, and hanging out with friends. Her dream is to someday finish her almost-done novel and get some sleep. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Copyright infringement is copyright infringement, end of story.
    As much as I love toys made for girls that encourage engineering/science etc. Can we please make them NOT pink. I liked this idea when it was on Kickstarter.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I agree about them not being pink – or at the very least having a non-pink option!

    • Parody is allowed under copyright law.

      Weird Al Yankovic used to ask permission before using various songs for his parodies, but it was out of courtesy only. His use of those songs in the particular way he did it was allowed under the law. It is considered fair use.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        The law is pretty clear about using parody for commercial purposes.

        There is some degree of murkiness here, but if you get down to the simple issue at hand – That Adam Yauch is gone, and our of respect they should have honored his wishes and not used it to sell a product, it’s pretty clear. Weird Al did it out of respect. This is totally disrespectful, even if you don’t think it holds up in court as copyright infringement.

    • Peg Manning says:

      And fair use is fair use.

      • David Dietz says:

        The end of the video, where the product and the product name are prominently displayed? That’s commercial use. It’s not parody any more.

        The company clearly wants to use the Beasties song without paying for it (or knew they couldn’t get permission) and wrapped it in “parody.” It’s cute. It’s clever. it’s well-done. But it’s an advertisement. If they had left off the image of the product at the end and never named the company within the video, they MIGHT have a leg to stand on. But a judge is going to see right through this.

  2. I know this is not what your post is mainly about but I wanted to say, I had a very “boyish” kitchen play set, red green blue yellow. My nephews have one too, and so does my niece and hers is brown and looks like it’s “geared toward” boys. I played with chemistry sets and bug kits as a child and was never offended by the fact that they weren’t “meant” for girls. I also played with barbies. I don’t think any toy should be off limits to any gender.

  3. As much as I love the Beastie Boys, copyrights (and patents and trademarks) are illiberal, immoral, and idiotic. They should all be abolished and condemned to the ridicule of future generations, as we do now with slavery and feudalism.

    • You’re not a creator of anything, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t say that.

      I agree we’re doing ridiculous things *with* copyright and patent and trademark, but there are people who abuse alcohol, and we figured out banning that was a bad idea. The solution isn’t to ban the thing entirely for everyone who might want to use it, but to stop abusing it in the first place.

      • First… “You’re not a [insert person who does thing being criticized], otherwise you wouldn’t be saying that.” Consider all of the bad things you think people do, and then count up how many of them you have done yourself. Haven’t done all of them? Then how can you criticize them?
        Your objection doesn’t make sense.

        Second, I don’t criticize IP because some people take it “too far.” I criticize it because it is inherently A Bad Idea. It’s not a morally neutral institution. What constitutes infringement is arbitrarily defined and subjectively judged. Enforcement of it is anti-social, oppressive, and stifles innovation and a leaves a level of wealth for all.

        And now this company who has made this delightful product, tries to promote it in the best way they can think of to give it the best possible chance of success. But those efforts potentially conflict with the law, or at least make them vulnerable to the potential for costly litigation. And for what? For doing what ALL creators do – for making a derivative work…. for innovating on the previous efforts of others.

        Look at your own comment. Let’s see how much of it is original…
        “we’re doing ridiculous things” – 5 google results of people who used this exact phrase before you
        “copyright and patent and trademark” – 140,000 google results for that exact phrase
        “there are people who abuse alcohol” – 38,100 google results for that exact phrase
        “The solution is not to ban the thing” – 4 google results for that exact phrase
        “everyone who might want to use it” – 244,000 google results for that exact phrase
        “stop abusing it in the first place” – 2 google results for that exact phrase
        “Otherwise you wouldn’t say that” – 105,000,000 google results for that exact phrase
        “You’re not a creator of anything” – 1 google result for that exact phrase

        You wrote a comment off the top of your head, and it’s at least 62% unoriginal, just going by the text. Plus, the two primary concepts which you’re trying to convey – “you have no grounds to criticize unless you’ve done it, too” and “some people just take it too far” – are certainly not original ideas. I hear them all the time from apologists for all sorts of horrifying and tyrannical behavior. The point is we all build off of what others before us have done, and it’s senseless the way some people try to discern how much derivation is original and how much is copying. The makers of this product should have the freedom to us whatever music they want in their advertisement without fear of retaliation or repression.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Did you really just compare copyrights with slavery?

      Let’s not do that.

      • It’s valid as an analogy. In both cases, you have people who are being forcefully and wrongfully denied the right to control that which rightly belongs to them. A copyright violator can end up in shackles and have life or liberty taken from her, for peacefully using her own property as she saw fit.

  4. FYI-
    Boyish dolls are completely out of scope for Goldieblox, so might not want to set unrealistic expectations.

    From their website:

    At GoldieBlox, our goal is to get girls building. We’re here to help level the playing field in every sense of the phrase. By tapping into girls’ strong verbal skills, our story + construction set bolsters confidence in spatial skills while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things.

    In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math…and girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8, GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered “boys’ toys”. By designing a construction toy from the female perspective, we aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.

    We believe there are a million girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet. We think GoldieBlox can show them the way.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I get that completely. But what we know is that if we want more female CEOs, engineers and astronauts, we also need to break down the gender binary for boys, too. It all works together, and for most families, moving forward means moving forward together outside of the standard gender-based restrictions.

      • I agree that there should be toys of that nature as well, but consider what you are requesting.

        You are asking a company that specializes in making engineering style toys for girls to switch gears and make non engineering style toys for boys, even though that does nothing to directly accomplish their mission. I think it’s unfair to put all of the solutions and strategies on the shoulders of a company that has a completely different mission.

        I’m not saying that the need isn’t there, just stating that some other company (existing or new!) should take something like that on.

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          Yeah, I think I was making a general statement rather than criticizing them. I don’t expect them to change their business model because Joanna Schroeder had an idea.

          • did you delete your original comment? Because your general statement didn’t shine through. I can’t find it, but I believe it said something like… “I hope Goldieblox will begin making toys for boys, like kitchen sets in boy colors or boyish dolls that weren’t militaristic”…..something like that.

            Glad we’re on the same page though. Let’s challenge big toy makers to stop genderizing every toy.

            • Joanna Schroeder says:

              It’s still in there, just above the update.

              I stand by what I said. It seems funny that you’re fighting me on this, but oh well.

            • I don’t think I’m “fighting” you on this, maybe you’ve been playing with your son’s war dolls too much. If you read my posts, they say things like “I agree with you” and “glad we’re on the same page”.

              TO QUOTE YOU (thanks for showing me where it was):
              “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!”

              Your sentence starting with “I hope….” clearly is asking for GoldieBlox to make out-of-scope toys. If this is supposed to read as a generalization – well, it didn’t.

  5. I thought parodies made it outside the typical copyright laws. Or was it satire being outside defamation?

    • David Dietz says:

      The inclusion of the product and the company at the end of the video shifts it away from parody and toward commercial advertisement.

  6. Alan Bishop says:

    A pre-emptive strike – should be enough to show everyone where Goldieblox’s head was at when deciding on the creative for this campaign. Complete disrespect for The Beastie Boys original material.

  7. Why do people keep calling this a parody?? Parody; “a piece of writing, music, etc., that imitates the style of someone or something else in an amusing way”, this commercial may be ‘cute’ and the visuals ‘amusing’ but the use of the song isn’t a parody (its a derivative of the original) and therefor isn’t protected by free speech. Secondly, the representatives of the intellectual property NEVER FILED ANY COMPLAINT. So I don’t really see where the news story is here. Seems to be the manufacturer of the toy is looking for free publicity.

  8. Mark Radcliffe says:

    I think the real reason to be pissed at the Beasties is for years of writing misogynistic lyrics. Their fame and multi-million dollar bank accounts are all built upon the foundation of lyrics like, “I did her like this. I did her like that. I did her with a whiffle ball bat.” They were “fighting for their right” to objectify women and treat them as nothing more than props for their own sexual gratification. That’s why the choice to use this song and re-write the lyrics to empower “girls” is such an awesome way to take back what was at first an incredibly demeaning song to women. Them pretending to “strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes” is a laugh. A fair bit of their career was one long virtual advertisement for entitled males treating women as 2nd class citizens. The might be “innovative artists,” but I think congratulating them for being men of integrity is a stretch.

    • Allan Mott says:

      I think this comment is really unfair, Mark. The group went out of their way to disown the material you criticize them for and they amply negated it with 2 decades worth of material that strived to send the exact opposite message. You seem to be arguing that this effort was meaningless because their first recordings were so unfortunate. If that’s the case, why would we expect anyone to ever listen to criticism or change their perspective? If we’re going to always be guilty and never deserve forgiveness–no matter how hard we try–what point is there in finding redemption? The truth is that they WERE men of integrity, because they realized they had erred (like people in their 20s tend to do) and worked hard to make up for it.

      Edited to Add: These lines from “Sure Shot” definitely speak to integrity to me:

      “I want to say something that’s long overdue
      The disrespect to women has got to be through
      To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends
      I want to offer my love and respect to the end”

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        +1 to Allan here.

        People deserve a chance to do better. It’s not our mistakes that define us, it’s how we choose to grow from them and do better.

  9. Thomas Pluck says:

    Copyright is supposed to protect artists. As for the Beastie Boys, they wrote some offensive songs back then. They came a long way, but it doesn’t matter if the song is offensive or not. Using it in your commercial without permission and then suing the artist preemptively and attacking them personally to get people on your side is a not behavior with integrity, either.
    I don’t want to derail the discussion by defending their art. It would be the same if Nike decided to empower boys by taking the Hunger Games and rewriting with a male lead, calling it parody, and filing suit against Suzanne Collins to sell their shoes.
    If a comedian parodied it, it is fair use. If a comedian parodied it to sell toys, it is commercial use without permission.

  10. U.S. Army Persian Gulf 1991 says:

    Joana, I think this article showed integrity on your part. To jump off the bandwagon and point out more of the facts as they become clear is not always popular. I also agree with you in regards to the stance taken by the Beastie Boys. As a writer myself, I have found some of my work being used by others on the Internet, and while it seemed to be fairly harmless, I think I should have some control over the use of the words I have arranged to give voice to my own thoughts. Those that don’t agree with that concept should undertake the work of writing themselves; after all, the alphabets and the languages of the world are open-source and can be arranged (or coded, if you will) in any form anyone wants without having to take shortcuts and use the voice and effort of others.

    Perhaps this instance could be considered fair use of the Beastie Boys’ music; but to preemptively litigate an artist or artists whose work GoldieBlox, at best, “borrowed,” kind of reintroduces that ick factor you mentioned. A little time spent to preemptively seek permission and abide by the decisions of the lawful copyright holders might have been well spent, especially in the case of a for-profit enterprise such as GoldieBlox. Does anyone expect the stakeholders of GoldieBlox to stand idly by should they find their toy being manufactured and sold by someone else? The ends do not justify the means, and the good works of this and similar organizations are in danger of being undercut by these types of actions.

    Joana, one other thing in particular you wrote in this article caught my eye, and that is when you expressed the desire for “boyish dolls that aren’t war-based.” When I returned from the Persian Gulf in 1991, I promised myself that I would never give a war-based toy to a child. It’s now twenty-two years later, and I still have never given any such toy to any male or female child. Thank you for that statement; it made me feel a little less alone in that particular promise.

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