UPDATE: 11/24 10:40pm – I changed the title of this developing story after a representative for The Beastie Boys made a statement to the Huffington Post confirming what some (myself included) were assuming: “There was no complaint filed, no demand letter (no demand, for that matter) when [GoldieBlox] sued Beastie Boys.”
11/25 9:53am: THR updated with statements from an open letter by Beastie Boys mentioning that while they were “impressed by the creativity and the message” of the Goldieblox video, “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.”
Original story continues below…
You may have already heard the news this week: GoldieBlox, “a toy company out to show the world that girls deserve more choices than dolls and princesses,” has preemptively sued Island/Def Jam Music (part of Universal Music), Beastie Boys, Rick Rubin, Sony/ATV Publishing, and Universal Music Publishing for a ruling that their recent “parody” of The Beastie Boys “Girls” is not copyright infringement (read the entire court filing right here). Call it the “Robin Thicke method,” if you will – to preemptively sue for a judgement around something “borrowed” without asking. The “parody” in question is a just-released commercial that features little girls building an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine to show just what kids are capable of. It’s a great commercial, but not even original in itself, as the GoldieBlox folks went right to the creator of OK Go’s Rube Goldberg machine from their “This Too Shall Pass” video. There’s so many problems here, that where to start is the big question.
While I’m not a lawyer (haven’t even played one on TV), I’ve been around enough and involved in so many creative endeavors throughout media that I know a little bit about “fair use” and “parody.” The big problem I see here for GoldieBlox is that they borrowed someone else’s IP to sell a commercial product – a toy line – without properly licensing the rights to the song. Right there – easy fix to the whole mess would’ve been to not have a mess in the first place: reach out to the rights holders of the song (publishers, label, songwriters) and ask permission. Instead, as court documents show, GoldieBlox is using this as an attack by calling this “a parody video set to the tune of the Beastie Boys’ highly sexist song ‘Girls.'” Yes, the original song was “sexist,” and the Beastie Boys know it. The 1986 tune from LICENSE TO ILL falls in-line with many earlier works from the Beasties that has since been sort of brushed under the rug as the group became grown-ups. Let’s face it, I did a lot of stuff when I was younger that wouldn’t exactly fall into my current lifestyle as a parent, but at the same time… borrowing without permission isn’t cool. Is it borrowing, or is it stealing?
As of now, it doesn’t seem that anyone from the defending side has chosen to make a public statement on the issue, so aside from the “threats” implied by the GoldieBlox team, we haven’t heard WHO exactly issued WHAT demands (UPDATE: as of 6:53pm tonight, The Huffington Post claims they have a source stating the as of 10:28, The Huffington Post has a statement from a band rep stating that The Beastie Boys have made no demands or threats). If it’s the Beastie Boys themselves, I’m disappointed because we’re talking about a nearly 30-year-old song that they don’t even particularly dig anymore, so the “empowering” message that GoldieBlox put on it should be appreciated. Same goes for the label, publisher, etc. At this point, you could just let it slide… but the fact remains that GoldieBlox is using this to sell toys. It’s a commercial, period. And what about the late MCA – Adam Yauch – and the requirement in his Will that his music not be used for commercials?
And as for GoldieBlox, what message of empowerment are we teaching our girls by borrowing another band’s concept for a music video (OK Go), then soundtracking it with someone else’s music (Beastie Boys) without asking permission first… and then suing. Are you out to teach girls that it’s ok to embrace the overly litigious society that America has become?
I try to teach my girls that it’s not cool to snatch other kids’ toys without asking permission first. Under the GoldieBlox method, I guess I should teach them to sue the other kids and whatever teacher/parent/grownup they might be affiliated with first, so they can get a “preemptive ruling” that stealing the toy is ok. Right?
While I’ve in the past heard and seen great things from GoldieBlox, this fiasco has made my decision clear: I won’t be buying any for my girls. What a way to sour a great message.
P.S. – I wonder if MATTEL has a statement about GoldieBlox’ use of their FISHER-PRICE Record Player at the beginning… with the F-P logo replaced with a GoldieBlox one, of course?
P.P.S. – I wish I would’ve known that GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling was at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair this weekend while I was there. I would’ve liked to have asked her about this personally. Of course, she may have then tried to preemptively sue me for a ruling that my opinions are invalid.
P.P.P.S – For those citing “Weird Al” or the “2 Live Crew vs. Roy Orbison” case, those artists still had to purchase licenses to commercially release variations on those songs. While the 2 Live Crew case was more complicated, quite simply in Weird Al’s case, a license is purchased – and he asks permission out of courtesy. When releasing a cover version, your first stop is generally The Harry Fox Agency to purchase a license (I’ve done it). You can find more information on all of these scenarios by searching the internet using the device you’re currently on.