Beastie Boys

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

(via Pitchfork)

So the matter isn’t quite settled yet, but it’s getting there. Also, that was a great commercial. Just saying.

Comments (9)
  1. I’m getting my daughter a Volkswagen badge

  2. If they had just made this as a standalone cover/parody, and even sold it as such, it would have been a slam dunk fair use. The problem is, they parodied the song for the exact same reason one would license the original song: promotional material. People get confused by the word “use” in fair use. Use isn’t necessarily utility but sometimes it is, especially in different licensing agreements. Since the original song wasn’t made specifically for promotional material, but could be licensed as such, a parody doesn’t change the use of the song in that context.

    • I agree completely.

      It makes the open letter to them seem like a passive-aggressive attempt to villainize Adam and Mike for maintaining their integrity in terms of avoiding commercial use of their songs. If GoldieBlox were really about “inspiring a generation” they could have just made the song into a Youtube video, and removed any relation to their product. Sponsoring non-commercial videos to promote gender equality is basically a tax write-off; paying for a commercial that sells a product with gender equality undertones, then hiding behind those undertones to try to justify their song sampling is entering exploitative territory and really begins to undermine whatever positive ideologies they claim to be driven by.

      The bottom line is they used the song to promote their product and make money. This whole fiasco (especially this open letter) really makes me question the motivations of GoldieBlox and suggests to me that they’re most interested in exploiting feminist trends for money as opposed to a whole-hearted approach to altering gender dynamics.

      • Besides, I’ve heard the toys themselves kinda suck. Lego has been putting out gender-neutral proto-engineering sets for all kinds of age levels, for decades. I honestly don’t think I’d be the person I am today without Legos, and if I have daughters or sons, they are all playing with Legos.

  3. This entire situation feels completely calculated, and this letter seems grossly insincere.

    Forgive the sports metaphor, but what GoldieBlox has done here is the equivalent of the douchebags who commit an intentional foul, then immediately afterward acknowledge the foul and apologize. The apology is totally insincere, since they still got what they wanted in committing the foul. If they were truly exhibiting good sportsmanship, they wouldn’t have made the foul in the first place.

    “We would like to respect his wishes and yours.” Really? Did you bother to find out what they were first?

    For his entire career, Weird Al Yankovic has made a point to get the artists’ permission first before releasing a parody – DESPITE THE FACT THAT HE DOESN’T NEED TO. It’s a courtesy. If an artist says “no”, he abandons the song.

    GoldieBlox could certainly have done the same. (Of course, the answer would have been “no”.)

    Instead, they released something knowing there were legal questions, took legal action, screamed “Help, Help, I’m being repressed!”, and now want us to believe they didn’t mean any harm and are acting in good faith. It’s a cynical attempt to profit off of the Streisand Effect, and it’s about to work.

    I want the Beasties to continue whatever legal action they had in mind (if they’ve ever intended to), if only to dissuade other companies from pulling this shit. Of course, if that happens, the next step in the GoldieBlox playbook is: “Oh, look at the big artists bullying the little company, after we apologized and everything.”

    Instead, I already see Debbie high-fiving Team GoldieBlox at the end of a successful campaign.

  4. “An open letter to the Beastie Boys” or one more press release to the masses? Brilliant marketing move, it’s like the Go Daddy commercials deliberatley making Super Bowl Commercials that would be refected, then running to the press to make sure everyone knows.

  5. They believed this fell under “fair use” is utter bullshit. Glad they got caught and in a sense, shamed.

  6. Them are fightin’ words.

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