Beastie Boys Have a "Girls" Problem: Goldieblox Video Brings on Copyright Issues

Corey Wainwright
Corey Wainwright



goldiebloxYou know that awesome video that's been going around from Goldieblox? The one where a bunch of little girls eschew the expectation that they play pretty-pretty pink princess for a badass Rube Goldberg machine? Well, it caused a bit of a problem between Goldieblox and the Beastie Boys.

The problem wasn't with the message or intent of the video -- that we should foster all parts of a growing girl's mind and encourage her to pursue interests in traditionally male-dominated fields. The problem was with the soundtrack.

Here, watch the video if you haven't seen it yet, then meet me below for discussion.

Another Copyright Case

If you haven't been watching this story unfold, it's had some ups and downs -- and some confusion from both parties that makes me wonder if this is either a PR stunt, poor communication, or something in between. Here's the history that's been unfolding over the past couple days as I understand it:

1) The Beastie Boys allegedly accused Goldieblox of copyright infringement because of the use of the band's 80s hit "Girls" in the company's video, which it didn't consider "fair use" of the song.

2) Goldieblox preemptively filed a lawsuit against the Beastie Boys, its record label, Rick Rubin, and band member Adam Horovitz seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to "vindicate the rights" of the toy company in connection with the parody video. It's worth noting that Goldieblox considered the song extremely sexist and changed the lyrics to the song -- which is why it called the ad a parody.

3) I scrunched my face in confusion because I'm not a lawyer, and that sounds like a strange response, but maybe it's par for the course.

Because the legal components of this started going above my head, I talked to a lawyer who lent some clarity on the subject matter. Here was her understanding of the situation, based on the general practice of law, which might help clear some of this up. It definitely helped me, personally, de-scrunch my face a bit.

It seems that the reason Goldieblox filed the lawsuit was to protect itself from being sued by the Beastie Boys -- just in case the band filed a suit. The lawsuit is asking the court to protect Goldieblox by saying it has the right to use the song -- that's what that "declaratory and injunctive relief" part means.

Some people have said there was chatter that the Beastie Boys would file a suit, while the Beastie Boys were later quoted as saying there were no plans to do so. Here's a copy of the band's statement on the matter, featured on Huffington Post:


Additionally, Goldieblox will probably argue that its song is a parody, which means that it's not subject to a copyright infringement claim. The laywer I spoke with does not specialize in the IP/music industry, but her understanding of the law is that it considers parodies a separate category, as long as they're executed in specific ways -- so changing the lyrics to "Girls," as Goldieblox did, could mean that it's not legally considered infringement.

The last part of this debacle that could make things even more complicated is that Beastie Boys band member Adam Yauch, who passed away, had a provision in his will that his songs couldn't be used in advertising campaigns. That might mean it is left up to a judge to interpret not only the provisions of the will, but whether or not the song is a parody.

No One's Coming Out a Winner

So here's the thing. I'm a Beastie Boys fan and I'm a fan of that Goldieblox video -- as well as the company's mission. As I watch this story develop, I can't help but feel like no one is coming out a winner here. I was talking to my coworker and product marketer, Meghan Keaney Anderson, and I think she put the sentiment some of us are feeling really well:

"Somewhere in the mix of legal action and defensiveness on both ends, a really simple and important message got marred. No one was naive enough to forget that this was an ad for a company, but what was great about the original ad was that it focused not just on the product but also on what science can make possible for young girls. All of the subsequent bickering undermined that message."

What's totally evident is that copyright law in the age of the internet is an area that still needs to be more clearly defined. As another coworker of mine Laura Fitton puts it, "Ads bleed into content and content bleeds into ads." It puts companies and content creators in a precarious situation, at the very least.

If you're interested in this discussion, we'll be debating the facets of content ownership in-depth next Tuesday, December 3. Come back and visit us to hear more.

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Topics: Copywriting

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