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Did Goldieblox Use Beastie Boys’ ‘Girls’ Just to Drum Up Controversy?

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Scott T. Sterling
Scott T. Sterling Scott is the rock associate producer for Radio.com....
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(Nathanial Hornblower/Nasty Little Man)

(Nathanial Hornblower/Nasty Little Man)

Last week, San Francisco start-up toy company Goldieblox made headlines with the release of an inventive new commercial spot that retools the Beastie Boys’ 1986 song “Girls” into a girl power anthem.

Now Goldieblox and the Beastie Boys are embroiled in a legal mess over the unauthorized use of the song, with the toy company filing a preemptive lawsuit against the New York hip-hop legends, stating: “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 inactivities that challenge their intellect, particularly in the fields of science, technology,engineering and math. 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.”

The Beastie Boys have issued an open letter to Goldieblox stating that despite being “impressed by the creativity and the message,” the spot is still a commercial advertisement for a product, which the band has very explicitly deemed off limits.

“We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering,” Beastie Boys members Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz said in the statement. However, the group added, “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.”

Additionally, Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch, who succumbed to cancer in 2012, wrote into his will that none of his music ever be used in advertising: “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 passage from the will (via Rolling Stone).

According to entertainment and intellectual property lawyer John Seay, of Atlanta’s The Seay Firm LLC, Golieblox using “Girls” without asking for the band’s permission could very well have been part of their plan to get the ad and its message to a larger audience, potential lawsuits be damned.

“In other words, if [the Beastie Boys] are gonna say no anyway, let’s go ahead and use it and claim fair use, versus asking them, having them say no, and then using it anyway, which could in some cases could lead to heightened damages for copyright infringement,” Seay told Radio.com via email. “Sure, they might have really believed that their use of the song was a fair use. Or, they might have figured that, worse case, they get sued, or threatened with suit, and the press picks up on it and raises the profile of the company and gets the commercial seen by many more people.”

While Seay believes that the ad is a legitimate parody by definition, relying on the fair use argument is a gamble, depending on the specific judge presiding over the case (“courts weigh a variety of factors, including the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and the effect of the use upon the potential market”). It is, however, still an advertisement above any kind of a statement: “In fact, I’d say that the predominant use of the song is to sell product and not to comment on the Beastie Boys song,” he said.

While the controversy continues on, the viral video is still amassing  an avalanche of Youtube hits, with the clip currently at more than 8 million views and counting.

Requests for comment from both Goldieblox and the Beastie Boys’ publicist were not returned at press time. Stay tuned for more developments in the ongoing battle between the two parties.

 

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