Well this is kind of sad. In case you missed it, a YouTube ad that parodied “Girls” by the Beastie Boys got a lot of attention, most of which had a lot to do with how they changed the originally controversial song to promote female empowerment. The video went viral and had 8 million views by Monday, getting a lot of parents interested in GoldieBlox’s line of girl-focused building toys.
Then it gets interesting. According to Time.com:
The Beastie Boys called up GoldieBlox to say that, on his deathbed, one of their members, Adam Yauch, said he never wanted the song to be used in commercials. In response, GoldieBlox preemptively sued the Beastie Boys, claiming that their use of ‘Girls’ is fair use and does not constitute copyright infringement. The controversy has sparked a debate about the right to parody on Twitter.
There are certainly a lot of arguments that can be made here. One such argument that Mathew Ingram of GigaOM.com pointed out was that:
To [copyright fans and some Beastie Boys fans], it was a shameless and commercial ripoff of the band’s copyrighted content, and a slap in the face to deceased Beastie Boy Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, who specifically stated that he didn’t want the band’s music to be used in advertising.
The other argument, which GoldieBlox made in its preemptive suit against the Beastie Boys, is that the song used in the video was a parody, which should be allowed under fair use doctrine. Now, some of you might believe that since it was an advertisement to promote a commercial product, the GoldieBlox and its original video shouldn’t be protected under fair use. However, according to Andy Baio on Waxy.org:
More than any other, I’ve seen this myth repeated everywhere. Can a company parody a famous artist’s work and use it, against their will, to advertise an unrelated product? Actually, yes, as long as the use is transformative enough.
Of course, all of this could have been avoided if GoldieBlox had simply informed the Beastie Boys that it would be parodying their song. They wouldn’t have been legally obligated to, assuming that they would have indeed been protected by fair use, but it would have certainly helped to avoid this legal kerfuffle. All that is moot now though as GoldieBlox has since taken down the ad and replaced it with the exact same video but with absolutely no reference to “Girls” or the Beastie Boys. It’s a little boring now, but rather than engage in a drawn out legal battle, GoldieBlox simply preferred to focus on “inspiring the next generation” and “be good role models”. Here are a few lines from an open letter CEO of GoldieBlox, Debra Sterling, wrote to the Beastie Boys:
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.”
Unfortunately, the Beastie Boys weren’t exactly in a friending mood, as can be read in their response to that letter:
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.
Well, there goes that.