You've probably seen the video: GoldieBlox, a company that manufactures engineering and construction toys for girls, did a parody of the Beastie Boys' "Girls" and the commercial video went viral last week. In the rewritten lyrics, the song now has lines like "You think you know what we want–girls/Pink and pretty it's girls/Just like the '50s it's girls/You like to buy us pink toys/ And everything else is for boys."
If you haven't seen the commercial, here it is:
When alerted to possible intellectual property infringement, the toy company acted preemptively and sued the band, even though "there was no complaint filed, no demand letter (no demand, for that matter) when [GoldieBlox] sued Beastie Boys," a bands' representative said, according to The Huffington Post. And on Monday, November 25, the band released the following statement:
"Like many of the millions of people who have seen your toy commercial 'GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg & the Beastie Boys,' we were very impressed by the creativity and the message behind your ad. 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."
According to Rolling Stone, upon Adam Yauch's death in 2012 it was revealed that his will included very specific instructions on what to do with his music after his passing: "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," read the will (the magazine adds that the "or any music or any artistic property created by me" line was added in handwriting).
On Thursday, the company sued the band in a California federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the video falls within "fair use."
“GoldieBlox created its parody video with specific goals to make fun of the Beastie Boys song, and to further the company’s goal to break down gender stereotypes and to encourage young girls to engage in activities that challenge their intellect, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math," reads the lawsuit. "The GoldieBlox Girls Parody Video has gone viral on the Internet and has been recognized by the press and the public as a parody and criticism of the original song.
“In the lyrics of the Beastie Boys’ song entitled 'Girls,' girls are limited (at best) to household chores, and are presented as useful only to the extent they fulfill the wishes of the male subjects. The GoldieBlox Girls Parody Video takes direct aim at the song both visually and with a revised set of lyrics celebrating the many capabilities of girls. Set to the tune of 'Girls' but with a new recording of the music and new lyrics, girls are heard singing an anthem celebrating their broad set of capabilities—exactly the opposite of the message of the original. They are also shown engaging in activities far beyond what the Beastie Boys song would permit. GoldieBlox created its parody video specifically to comment on the Beastie Boys song, and to further the company’s goal to break down gender stereotypes and to encourage young girls to engage in activities that challenge their intellect, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.”
In other words: GoldieBlox made a successful parody of a Beastie Boys song (as of this writing, it has 8,248,185 views), the band dug the video but wondered what the hell was going on, so the company sued the band, Def Jam Music Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing Group and producer Rick Rubin, not the other way around.
Does GoldieBlox have a point? Yes and no: the song is a parody, and parodies are protected. Now, commercial parodies are an entirely different matter, and the Beastie Boys are right in pointing out that this isn't just a parody, but a freaking commercial. Even "Weird Al" Yankovic asks for permission before he does his parodies. Unfortunately for the band, there is a strong precedent that might be good news for GoldieBlox: When 2 Live Crew wanted permission to record a parody of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman," it was denied. The band went ahead and did it anyway. The song was a hit and, when when the band got sued, the Supreme Court initially sided with them. But the court went back and forth on the verdict, with the parts eventually settling out of court for undisclosed terms.
In the Beastie Boys' case, Yauch's will is clear: no commercial use for his music. Too early to tell what will happen, but I think at the end the same thing will happen: the law is so vague, that whoever has the best lawyer will prevail.
Here's the original "Girls," by the Beastie Boys.