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Beastie Boys 1, Adorable Little Girls 0

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | November 27, 2013 | Comments ()


2013-11-21-GoldieBlox.png

In an open letter on their website, GoldieBlox admit defeat in their fight with the Beastie Boys over their parody of the song “Girls.” Much like the letter the Beastie Boys wrote to GoldieBlox, this concession is both respectful and a little spiky.

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.

Sincerely,

Debbie + Team GoldieBlox

I look forward to what GoldieBlox does next and hope that even this dicey publicity boosts the sales of their fantastic product.

(via GoldieBlox)







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • I was pro-Beasties from the moment I found out about Adam Yauk's request in his will, and the move today puts a bitter taste in my mouth. Goldieblox got the national exposure they were looking for and the moment they sense that the PR moral high ground might be shifting out of their favor, they bail out, give a half hearted apology and a can't we all just move on attitude. But the damage is done and the he non-commercial use of the BB's music can't be undone

  • I was under the impression that Weird Al DOES get permission from the original artists; seems like I read something somewhere about there only being one person ever who turned him down.

    Regardless, as much as I love a good laugh, not sure I even agree parody SHOULD be a fair-use exception to copyright laws.. at least not to sell a product. As an artist, I would want the right to say no to someone using my work to promote something I might find deplorable, and parody is still using someone else's work. Without "Gangsta's Paradise", there wouldn't be an "Amish Paradise."

    And that's all my opinionating power for a few days.... gotta go drown a turkey (forced submersion in cold water looks so much easier on tv; should I have started with chloroform?). Happy Turkey Coma, everyone!

  • Arran

    I think he generally asks "permission" as a professional courtesy rather than a requirement. That said, there's been a couple of times where an artist's lawyers have tried to block him from releasing stuff, so it all seems a bit grey.

  • **I AM** NotTheOne

    Damn. I feel chastened and I didn't even do anything!

  • All copyright business aside, I think people have been taken in way too much by this ad campaign. As far as I'm concerned, GoldieBlox (the products rather than the ad presence) does a lot less for little girls than it claims. Clearly I could be wrong (I'm a boy), but if you're interested, I wrote about it a few days ago:

    http://nothingjustis.com/2013/...

  • bbmcrae

    Btw, the adorable girls are actresses cast in an ad playing with a Rube Goldberg device created by a marketing team.

  • jptaylorsg

    "A little spiky"? That statement is incredibly passive aggressive. This Debbie girl is crafty like ice is cold.

  • TenaciousJP

    This Debbie lady is definitely jocking Mike D to my dismay.

  • Fall07

    While I feel somewhere in the middle here. It seems like the Beastie Boys should let this go. On the other hand it is clearly an ad. AND did anyone else notice that while it was an "anti-princess" engineering commercial... its advertising a princess product?

  • lowercase_ryan

    I can't help but think that if the cause was deemed great enough the Beasties would have looked the other way.

    And that's what's leaving the bad taste in my mouth.

  • Kate

    It's not a charity, it's one of the most popular toys of the year.

  • bbmcrae

    The "cause" is selling toys. Educational toys, but still, it's an ad. You can put your deeply-troubled soul meanderings over a toy commercial away and sleep well.

  • Genevieve Burgess

    They had a good argument in favor of fair use, and filing a preemptive suit is par for the course if you anticipate a lawsuit and want to keep your version available while the legal system works its incredibly plodding magic. However, there are no set-in-stone rules for Fair Use, it's always a gamble, and it depends a lot on the court hearing the case. GoldieBlox wouldn't have the money or time to take this that far, so dropping it is the best thing they could have done.

    Artists do have rights, but parody is a protected area of copyright law. There's plenty of artists who work almost exclusively with copyrighted work, without getting permission, who skate just on the edge of the law. Weird Al has used it, and GirlTalk is notorious for never getting permission for his work. 2 Live Crew used it against Roy Orbison's publisher over their use of "Pretty Woman" and won at the Supreme Court level.

  • Guest

    .

  • jptaylorsg

    I can't help but notice that every example you use isn't an actual analog for GoldieBlox. You are referencing artists whose art is parody as comparisons for a corporation that is using an alteration (maybe parody) of an artist's song to sell a product. The Beasties did not dispute that the song should be allowed to exist - or even be sold as a direct parody. They simply asked why their intellectual property (in whatever form) is being used to sell a product without their permission. There is a huge grey area here that you are ignoring by equating GoldieBlox with Weird Al, in my opinion. Selling a parody of "Girls" would be worth a few hundred thousand $, best case, while selling a toy made popular through a viral marketing campaign could be worth many millions.
    Also, I would bet that GoldieBlox isn't standing down because they think they can win but it would be too expensive - they're likely standing down because their lawyers have advised them that their chances aren't good. The initial suit got them a few more days and a news cycle piggybacking on the Beastie Boys' fame.

  • Genevieve Burgess

    The parody version of the song is a derivative work, though, which holds a copyright in its own right and can be used how the holder of that copyright sees fit. If this was ruled a parody under fair use, then the owner of the copyright of the derivative work has the right to license their copyright to any interest, commercial or otherwise. We won't know if it would be ruled that way because they're not taking it to court.

  • jptaylorsg

    Fair point, but it's pretty clear the derivation wasn't created in a vacuum and then innocently licensed to Goldieblox. It was created specifically so that the marketing campaign could benefit from the existing popularity of the BB song. This version didn't exist prior to the campaign. Again, a grey area, but a significant one, in my opinion, and one that would aid the BB in court, though it doesn't seem as if either party ever intended to go that far.

  • Just as the people who gave you "Blurred Lines" preemptively sued Marvin Gaye's state, it appeared that Goldie Blox was ready for the Beasties/their label's legal team. What they didn't expect was the reason (MCA's dying wish that their music never appear in ads). Maybe they could have fought it, maybe they could have won. But that little fact was going to spin this story from "plucky upstart vs mean old music label" to a "dude, an artist who gave us joy wanted it this way. Don't be dicks."

    And that's a fight Goldie Blox was not going to win.

  • John V. Knowles

    THIS.

  • The Kitastrophe

    Isn't GoldieBlox doing more harm than good by perpetuating a difference between 'boys' and 'girls' toys? My daughter plays with her Erector Set and her Zoobs and neither one says a damn thing about being for girls.

  • Fireplace Girl

    I thought something similar; it really bothered me that their "parody" specifically denigrated pink toys, yet the Goldiblox are primarily pink, purple, and teal (all typically "girl" colors) along with yellow, the only really neutral color used. I checked out their products as well, and one of the two sets available was for building a "princess pageant float". So, while the idea of engineering toys for girls is great, I'm not sure their message is consistent. They also seem to have missed the fact that the Beastie Boys song is itself satirical, meant to point out the outrageous misogynistic tendencies of rock and pop music of the times.

  • socyncere84

    Yes and no. In theory nothing should be gendered and we're working towards that. But I think they're gendering their toys so that they can break the current stereotype and make more girls interested. When we get to a point where there is no more gender gap in the STEM fields (or the gap is much smaller) then we won't need toys like GoldiBlox.

  • JJ

    Absolutely, toys should just be toys regardless of gender. But given that's not the marketing and commercial world we live in, isn't one possible strategy to put something not traditionally seen in the "girls section" of toy stores? It isn't the same as doing away with gendered sections entirely but seemingly attacks it from a different angle. Maybe it won't be as effective, I don't know, but seeing as my daughter likes to dress up as Dr. Aurora, I'm open to thinking about these issues from different perspectives.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    I think the best thing that could happen is for the Beastie Boys to work together with Goldie Blox and come up with a whole new anthem. And it is this thought that makes me a lousy lawyer.

  • Bill__Brasky

    Yep. This would be amazing.

  • bastich

    Honestly, I'd like to see Goldie Blox hire female musicians and songwriters to write original anthems for their products...or at least buy the rights to use popular songs written/performed by the same. Seems to me that would fit in more with their image, as well as better cater to their target demographic.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    This is also a good option. I'm trying to think of who'd be good for that, and all that's popping into my head is Sleater-Kinney.

  • emmalita

    Very good point.

  • emmalita

    Hey now, the best lawyers find win/win solutions.

  • ElementRed

    Not to be a cynic but that's because they always get paid.

    http://24.media.tumblr.com/tum...

  • emmalita

    Getting paid doesn't lessen the value of work that seeks to find a benefit for everyone. If it were easy to find a solution that makes everyone happy, it would happen more often.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    For sure. I always tell people - if everyone's vaguely dissatisfied, but the shit's over, that's a win. And I don't get paid a whole lot. Certainly not enough to put up with most of the shizz that I'm forced to. Put up with. I lost my grammar in the middle there.

  • DeaconG

    But a decent human being.

  • ElementRed

    Beastie Boys 1, Adorable Little Girls 0?

    You mean: Artists right to protect their music from commercial use against their wishes 1, Evil corporation 0.

    Right?

  • Robert

    Or, new company that probably doesn't have enough money to fight a fair use/parody case through many rounds of appeals that could easily be decided in their favor because the new lyrics are a clear critique of the original lyrics and they recorded everything themselves in the parody version 0, Beastie Boys 1.

    You know, however you want to spin a parody/fair use case. Considering there are no clear cut lines in legally ruling on parody in regards to fair use, kind of hard to claim one side or the other is evil for fighting for or against something embedded in the same set of rules that allow for artists to protect their music from unauthorized commercial use.

  • ElementRed

    I would say to said new company then: Don't go down the road then if you are unsure.

    More than likely Goldie Box thought that this could happen and said, FVCK IT, Let's do it. Worse case the Beastie Boys say no and we have to pull it. Best case we get to shill on Beastie Boys nostalgia.

    Either way it's free publicity for us.

    The FVCK IT, Let's do it attitude hasn't even been brought into the Pajiba conversation only the evil Beastie Boys and their greed.

    Goldie Box is in the wrong here not the Beastie Boys.

  • Genevieve Burgess

    The Beastie Boys are also likely a corporate entity if they have any financial sense at all. So, this is more like one corporation versus another over a copyright issue.

  • AngelenoEwok

    I was waiting for you to weigh in!

  • Bill__Brasky

    Whether or not the Beastie Boys have incorporated is irrelevant. As artists, they have a legal right to prohibit the use of their art by others for commercial gain. As clever as the GoldieBox commercial is, it's still a commercial.

    I think the problem stems from the fact that GoldieBox is a responsible company promoting a great message and people have trouble separating themselves from that fact. If it was Monsanto or Dow or Koch Industries appropriating a Beastie Boys song I doubt there would be the same level of support.

  • Genevieve Burgess

    Honestly, as someone with a music business degree I'm coming at this purely from the copyright perspective. Parody is protected under copyright law. That's the end of the issue for me.

  • mograph

    Sorry, not parody: commercial use. The purpose of the Goldiblox work is not to comment on the original track, but to promote the Goldiblox product.

  • Pajiba_Pragmatist

    Time to go back to school! yes, Parody is protected, but as you well know the boundaries are case specific and tied to a four factor test.

    In the case here, I'd say we look at Nader v. Mastercard, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose, MCA v. Mattel and Dr. Seuss v. Penguin Books.

    Most everyone wants to point to Acuff-Rose as the key case, but it's really not. In that example, 2LiveCew was selling a song, not products unrelated to the performance of the song. This is not the GoldieBlox fact pattern at all. I think we all agree if GoldieBlox wanted to put out an album and feature that song, then parody under Acuff-Rose would probably be pretty clear.

    But that's not what we have here: GoldieBlox is selling products and using the song to encourage consumers to purchase those unrelated products.

    So what cases look like that? Dr. Seuss v Penguin, where a book about the O.J. Simpson trial was done in a ripoff of "Cat in the Hat". In Dr. Seuss, the court made it clear that you need to be parodying the original work, not using someone else's work to sell a different product. The last word? not quite -

    In Nader v. Mastercard, the court said Nader could use a satire of the Mastercard "priceless" campaign to sell his magazine - however the magazine was intended to satirize corporate America, of which Mastercard is a member. Also, Nader's product (magazine) was of value as direct social commentary.

    So a bit of a split decision, right? there's more... In MCA v. Mattel, Mattel sued to stop the band "Aqua" from releasing the song "Barbie Girl". The court ruled in favor of MCA, and the song was released as satire or parody of the trademarked Barbie product. However, when several years later Mattel decided to use the song (with different lyrics - just like GoldieBlox) to promote Barbie, they ended up having to take a license from MCA.

    I'd say that the four-factor test will end up ruling that, while the song GoldieBlox is a parody, the use of the song to sell products not clearly part of the parody makes it out of bounds.

    So "Parody is protected" is not exactly issue ending at all.

  • mograph

    Respect, Pragmatist.

  • Bill__Brasky

    I get that. The legal questions are obviously very tricky on this one and it comes down to whether or not the GoldieBlox commercial actually qualifies as a parody or not. My two cents; it seems that the primary motivation of the GoldieBlox ad is the desire for commercial gain, therefore it's unlikely that it's covered by fair use.

  • Mr_Blithe

    Commercial use does not preclude fair use/parody. Whether the use of the copyrighted work by another person is commercial or not is only a small part of one factor of a four-factor balancing test that also looks at how transformative the new use is, the nature of the original work (including the age of the original work), the extent of the use (whether the new version used more of the original than it needed to), and potential market harm to the copyright owner. It's true that commercial use by another party of a copyrighted work is less protected than, say, someone using the original work as part of a hobby or something with no profit motive at all. However, the fact that the song appears in a commercial is not the most significant part of the analysis.

  • Pajiba_Pragmatist

    It's not the commercial use, it's the commercial use for an unrelated product. This is why Dr. Seuss v. Penguin is more relevant.

    I've seen this example elsewhere, but you would not expect that Wal-mart could use a "worker's rights" song with new lyrics that say why unions are bad, and then use that as a commercial for cheaply made non-union products, right?

  • So when Weird Al makes a parody song or when they make a parody movie those things are protected by fair use, and they also are in it for commercial gain so by that logic this parody would also be protected by fair use.

  • Bill__Brasky

    Well, Weird Al generally has the respect to ask permission first, so there's that. But like Genevive said, it's rarely black or white in cases of parody and fair use. Parody movies are technically art (in the loosest sense of the term) whereas commercials for toy companies, which exist for the sole purpose of selling a product, are not. But again, only the courts could decide if the GoldieBlox commercial is a parody or not. I can only say that I'm on the side arguing that it's not a parody and exists strictly to market a product.

  • Genevieve Burgess

    It really depends on the individual case. The most famous parody case that got all the way to the Supreme Court was over 2 Live Crew's use of "Pretty Woman" which was clearly something that was for commercial gain. 2 Live Crew sold the shit out of that song. And the court ruled in their favor, though the case was officially settled out of court. There's several factors the court takes into consideration, and no one of them is an absolute "yes" or "no."

  • Pajiba_Pragmatist

    As I noted above, the 2LiveCrew case is really not the best touchstone here - the facts are significantly different.
    1. GoldieBlox aren't selling the song, they are selling unrelated toys.
    2. GoldieBlox didn't merely borrow elements, they took the whole song and merely changed the lyrics.

  • L.O.V.E.

    No it isn't, because if they were acting like a corporation they
    1. would have actually taken legal action, which they clearly didn't
    2. claim financial damages
    3. argue the copyright infringement impaired the marketplace for their song. the fact they made it clear they wouldn't go commercial actually might of damaged their position in court
    4. finally, name me the last corporation with a will and testament that essentially said "don't sell our stuff to the highest bidder"

  • Genevieve Burgess

    It's pretty standard to send a few letters telling people to knock it off before dragging the issue to court, no matter who's sending the letters. Court cases are expensive no matter who you are, so if you can settle the matter without legal action that's preferred on all sides. And they can't claim financial damages, they have no legs to stand on. The GoldieBlox version clearly isn't a commercial threat to the Beastie's version.

    The will ultimately is not legally binding on GoldieBlox. The rights are passed on to the named heir or the executor to administer as they see fit. It's nice that they're honoring MCA's wishes, but it's not information that could be used in a lawsuit. It's emotional. And it worked, so good for them.

  • ElementRed

    But the basic principle is still that Artists should have the right to control the use their music and stop it from being used for commercial purposes against their wishes or without fair compensation.

  • JJ

    Exactly. I believe it was something like Island Def Jam Music, Brooklyn Dust Music, Beastie Boys, Sony Music, Universal Music Publishing, Rick Rubin, and Adam Horowitz: 0, GoldieBlox, Inc: 0.

  • Aaron Schulz

    Pajiba likes the company so theres no way they are in the wrong and just did this to drum up publicity because they knew people would leap to their defence.

  • BTW, read a review or two of GoldieBlox's products that were less than glowing.

  • Robin Kimball

    Man, it just feels like no one is coming out of this well. The best two things I read on this clustercuss:

    On the legal aspects, and why it's complicated, unclear, and yet-unsettled-by-case-law: http://waxy.org/2013/11/goldie...

    On "disruption"'s role in this: http://blogs.reuters.com/felix...

    Perhaps of note: it's not really Beasties v. little girls, it's Beasties v. a marketer: "Goldieblox founder & CEO Debra Sterling...spent seven years as a brand strategist and marketing director before starting Goldieblox" from that first article, and, less neutrally stated, from the second: "...GoldieBlox did exactly what you’d expect an entitled and well-lawyered Silicon Valley startup to do, which is pick a fight."

  • kimk

    Yes. I consider myself a feminist, and work in the field of STEM education with a particular interest in STEM education for girls. But, this is not "Beastie Boys vs. teaching girls about science", this is "Beastie Boys vs. another commercial entity". The legal issues are complex, but don't get glossed over just b/c Goldieblox has a pro-girl marketing message.

  • Ian Fay

    As much as I admire the Beastie's anti-commerical stance (all too rare these days), it was clearly a parody / cover of their song and probably not legally actionable.

    I don't think anyone wins here.

  • But a parody used for commercial purposes.

  • Ian Fay

    True, but this is basically what Weird Al does for a living and he doesn't have to get permission for those:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A...

    There's gotta be an attorney here at Pajiba somewhere.

  • e jerry powell

    The fact that he doesn't have to ask doesn't mean that he doesn't ask. His job is a lot easier if he plays nice with the bigger fish in the pond, I think.

    And Genevieve Burgess is definitely the one to ask.

  • Also key about Weird Al is that he pays his royalties as well as gets permission.

  • JGSOLID

    Weird Al always gets clearence to use music. With the Amish Paradise situation, no one reports on the fact that the music was veted. Through Stevie Wonder, who wrote the music used as the song pasttime paradise. With the okay to use the track the modding of the lyrics in to a similar timed, yet entirely original rap is legal under fair play. My brother is a lawyer who was actually consulted over a similar case.

  • manting

    They (the beastie boys) would have had a very difficult time winning. As long as they could convince the Jury/judge that it was a parody then they would win since that is covered in fair use. Think of all the movie parodys out there - they are all covered under fair use.

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