What counts as fair-use parody, and what counts as a simple advertisement? For the past few days, many of us have been arguing and wondering over those things, thanks to a viral toy commercial that put a feminist spin on the Beastie Boys’ ridiculously catchy 1986 lunkhead standard “Girls.” The YouTube commercial, from the Kickstarter-funded toy company GoldieBlox, used the re-recorded, parodied song to soundtrack an ad that featured three adorable girls building a complicated Rube Goldberg device. But the company didn’t license the song, and, indeed, they couldn’t have done so; the late Adam Yauch left a will that stated that Beasties songs couldn’t be used in ads. When the Beasties made legal inquiries, the company filed a preemptive lawsuit to have the ad declared OK under the First Amendment fair-use doctrine that protects satire. This could’ve led to a court case that would further define whether an ad can also be a protected parody, but now that (probably) won’t happen. GoldieBlox has pulled the video, and they’ve written an open letter to the Beasties:
Dear Adam and Mike,
We don’t want to fight with you. We love you and we are actually huge fans.
When we made our parody version of your song, “Girls”, we did it with the best of intentions. We wanted to take a song we weren’t too proud of, and transform it into a powerful anthem for girls. Over the past week, parents have sent us pictures and videos of their kids singing the new lyrics with pride, building their own Rube Goldberg machines in their living rooms and declaring an interest in engineering. It’s been incredible to watch.
Our hearts sank last week when your lawyers called us with threats that we took very seriously. As a small company, we had no choice but to stand up for ourselves. We did so sincerely hoping we could come to a peaceful settlement with you.
We want you to know that when we posted the video, we were completely unaware that the late, great Adam Yauch had requested in his will that the Beastie Boys songs never be used in advertising. Although we believe our parody video falls under fair use, we would like to respect his wishes and yours.
Since actions speak louder than words, we have already removed the song from our video. In addition, we are ready to stop the lawsuit as long as this means we will no longer be under threat from your legal team.
We don’t want to spend our time fighting legal battles. We want to inspire the next generation. We want to be good role models. And we want to be your friends.
Debbie + Team GoldieBlox
So the matter isn’t quite settled yet, but it’s getting there. Also, that was a great commercial. Just saying.