Here an interesting copyright story making the rounds this morning: GoldieBlox, a startup who makes engineering-themed toys for girls, has a new ad which has gone viral, featuring several cute little girls constructing a Rube Goldberg-esque machine to the tune of ‘Girls’ by the Beastie Boys. The lyrics of this iconic song have been re-written to accommodate the girl-power theme, and the instruments are a little punchier. But it is recognizably the Beastie Boys tune.
What followed was predictable—a polite inquiry from the Beastie Boys—and then unpredictable, as GoldieBlox sued them! They claim their unauthorized borrowing as fair use because it is a parody and thus a transformational use. They took the offensive so that they could get a ruling from the court that their use is permitted (I have read at least one other story on this which suggests they are trying to enter the ad into a contest where the prize is an ad spot during the Superbowl; they need the ad to be clear of any legal issues in order to do so).
There are a few issues here. As the Reuters article explains:
“In their letter to GoldieBlox, the Beasties make three simple points. They support the creativity of the video, and its message; they’re the defendants in this suit, rather than the people suing anybody; and, most importantly, they have a long-standing policy that no Beastie Boys songs shall ever be used in commercial advertisements.”
That last point is an important one: band member Adam Yauch had explicitly stated in his will that no music of his could ever be used in advertisements, and it sounds like the band is honouring that. If this was just a viral video to promote engineering for girls, maybe the band wouldn’t have an issue. But, however cute and clever it might be, it is at the end of the day an ad designed to sell a product. Should the band have a right to say no to that, even if the use is a ‘parody’ and transformational?
I have seen comments on this story which were fairly evenly split. Some felt that Yauch’s dying wish was sacrosanct; others felt that ‘fair use’ should not be stopped no matter who wanted it to be. What do you think?