Surely by now you’ve heard about the latest kerfuffle that involves the Beastie Boys, the one where Bay Area toymaker GoldieBlox (which manufactures its products “to get girls building”) has been threatened by the Beasties for copyright infringement over its viral ad, which has been viewed more than 8 million times, below. In preparation for that legal kerfuffle, GoldieBlox has filed a preemptive lawsuit to maintain its work is parody, justifiable under “fair use.”
The Beasties’ threat isn’t hard to understand: GoldieBlox–despite its ad’s encouraging message to young girls–pretty clearly rips off the Beasties’ 1987 hit, “Girls.” Deceased member Adam “MCA” Yauch’s will stipulates that no Beasties music should be used for any sort of advertisement. And the group’s two remaining members–Mike D and Ad-Rock–have since sued companies like Monster Energy for riffing off their sh*t.
They’ve made it clear: don’t use our stuff to sell things. But surely the Beastie Boys didn’t prepare for a grey area like this, where they’re saying no to a company whose social and philosophical goals are just as powerful as its money-making goals. Ad-Rock and Mike D issued a statement yesterday conceding as much:
“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.”
I know d*ck about the ins and outs of estate or copyright law, but if it’s as easy to drop both lawsuits as typing this sentence, then both sides should drop. Also, the Beasties should permit GoldieBlox to further use of its advertisement.
Because when the boys have spent so much of their later career distancing themselves from the misogyny of the “Girls” era, why not make this one exception? GoldieBlox’s version not only pays homage to the popularity of the song, but it also adds a new, Beasties-approved social layer to the tune as well (which is a key to GoldieBlox’s claiming of “fair use”). The Beastie Boys should view their work as pure, but this isn’t a company looking to push bottle of vodka using “Fight For Your Right.”
It brings to mind another institution and its sacrosanct product. Until 2006, Spanish soccer club FC Barcelona didn’t have a shirt sponsor because it consider its shirt too pure to sully with an ad; however, the team made an exception when it inked a deal to display UNICEF, the world children’s organization, on the front of its jersey through 2011. The team still boasts UNICEF on its kit, but now it’s on the back of the jersey instead of the front (the Qatar Foundation now holds the coveted front-of-shirt spot, which brought the team lots of dough that it needed).
GoldieBlox is not UNICEF and it’d be a crock of sh*t to correlate the two, but it wouldn’t be false to say that GoldieBlox is like UNICEF in its mission to promote positive social change. If Barcelona could break a century-old promise, then the Beastie Boys could make this one exception. It opens up a slippery slope, of course, to other well-intentioned companies, but that’s a hypothetical and this is happening now, with an ad that’s added a much-needed addendum to one of the group’s most popular songs.
So: why not make this one exception, boys?