Beastie Boys To GoldieBlox: Don't Fight For Your Right To Use Our Song

The "Girls" artists, who forbid their music from being used in advertisements, have issued a statement saying toy startup GoldieBlox's popular commercial is "designed to sell a product."

The Internet went gaga last week for a creative commercial advertising the acclaimed, young toy startup GoldieBlox, set to a parody version of the Beastie Boys song "Girls." Unfortunately, the hip-hop group has a well-known policy of not allowing their music to be used in advertisements.

Beastie Boys members Mike D and Ad-Rock, who survive the late Adam "MCA" Yauch, have issued the following open letter addressed to GoldieBlox:

Like many of the millions of people who have seen your toy commercial "GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg & the Beastie Boys," we were very impressed by the creativity and the message behind your ad. 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.

The last sentence of Mike D and Ad-Rock's statement refers to a preemptive lawsuit GoldieBlox filed last week against the Beastie Boys, its record label, and producer, effectively asking the California federal court to classify the commercial spot as an example of fair use.

GoldieBlox, which designs toys to inspire future female engineers, is basically arguing its commercial be classified as a parody video, rather than an advertisement, because it features completely rewritten lyrics the company argues were meant to make fun of the Beastie Boys' original 1987 song while simultaneously promoting its mission to break down gender stereotypes.

We have reached out to GoldieBlox for comment and will update this post if we hear back.

Update, 2:32 p.m. ET GoldieBlox declined to comment for this story.

Several musicians have taken to Twitter to speak out in support of the Beastie Boys, including Radiohead frontman (and staunch Spotify opposer) Thom Yorke and hip-hop artist Talib Kweli.

Update, Dec. 2: GoldieBlox has since made its original video private, but you can still watch a version of it here:

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80 Comments

  • Imran

    Like many of the millions of people who have seen your toy commercial GoldieBlox

  • Katia Nokrachi

    Beasties I love you .. But on this one I'm not so sure I side with you...

  • Gary

    Faux concern for girls to pursue profit, wrapped in theft of a an artists' work, preempted with a lawsuit. Wow, a modern Dickensian company.
    Not a company I or my daughter will ever support.

  • Jay

    Wow - amazing how we are easily distracted by the gender activism here. I would almost suspect Goldiblox is behind the diversion of what we are really discussing here - plagiarism. Goldiblox knew the attention they would get here and figured little girls vs. Beastie Boys would be no match. That's why they have the audacity to sue them. We will officially boycott Goldiblox for plagiarism and the pompousness to sue the Beastie Boys for what they consider a "parody". Another firm giving lawyers a bad name - sometimes you need to blame the client.

  • gschwartz1

    The other problem (along with apparently wanting to teach girls that they don't need to respect intellectual honesty) is that the reviews of the product are not great. I looked, really excited about getting the toy for various girls. Cheap material, doesn't stay together which is frustrating, and doesn't have enough variety in what can be done with it. And, a steep price. So, despite really wanting to like and buy several, I didn't. Which means I don't have to feel guilty for supporting an unethical company (I was already ignoring the girls in China who are producing the shoddily-made product).

  • Honest Bob

    Their products are crap. My daughter was bored 15 minutes in and 2 pieces arrived broken.
    Not worth the money.

  • nhr215

    F**k this company. I have nieces that their product would be perfect for, but I will not support a company that sues artists that it is ripping-off.

  • Clayton Conway

    I liked the ad but not because of the song... I think they could easily have found a female artist who would've happily supported their cause but they wanted to make a scene for marketing purposes... and now look at all these big names talking about them online. Somehow yellow, green, red, and blue legos can only be used by boys... So girls can only be interested in engineering if it involves pink toys and stories... does no one else see how stereotypical that is?

  • gooderba

    Commercial by any other name would still be a commercial when a company or a business is behind it to promote a product. If I took a song and did a parody for my 31 subscribers without alluding to a product, then it wouldn't be a commercial. But a company making a parody video is definitely a commercial. Look at the parody commercial for PooPourri, it's for a real product.

  • paulsboot

    ahhh! it was a dyeing mans last wish not to have any BB tunes in ads! i can almost guarantee they don't want royalties, they want it removed.

  • Andreas Nettmayer

    It's parody. You don't lose rights to make a social point just because you are doing so in a commercial context. From Johnny Carson to South Park, nearly all parodies make someone money. The issue is whether a transformative element in the derivative work exists. It does here. The advert parodied BBs at length because that's how parody works. You have to reference the original work long enough to have the audience see the connection. GoldieBlox transformed the meaning of the song from Misogyny to one that breaks down gender stereotypes. Doing so has triggered a ton of social commentary. This is exactly the sort of discussion free speech is supposed to protect. The Beastie Boys are just pissed they didn't get any money from it. Too bad for them, permission is not a part of fair use.

  • zifnab

    It directly advertises a product. The parody angle was an attempt to get away with using someones else's work for free without paying royalties. It's despicable regardless of the cause.

  • lynndalsing

    Yes, you do. If the product you are selling is the parody (think a Weird Al song), then it's covered under fair use. If the product you are selling is not the parody (in the case here, they are selling a toy), it's specifically exempted from fair use.

    You are correct that permission is not a part of fair use, but there isn't a lot of room to call this fair use. No one has ever gotten parody called fair use in an ad. It just hasn't happened.

  • Andreas Nettmayer

    So your promoting the idea that this be called infringement, the advert be stopped, and the Beastie Boys go back to relative obscurity as opposed to this advert being called fair use, the Beastie boys being searched for all the time on Youtube and Pandora, and the Beastie Boys raking in that royalty money?

    By "specifically exempted" I presume you are referencing statute and case law that makes a distinction between commercial and educational works? It's not exempted. The commercial value is a factor. It's not game over because of a commercial nature.

    I see the song in the advert as completely transformative from the original, not undercutting and possibily even increasing the sales volume the underlining protected work, and adding something useful to the cultural dialogue. It's seems a rather dogmatic application to say it's not fair use because it's in an ad. To my recollection, very few adverts use transformative parodies. That's what makes this advert so effective: it employs a novel social parody that is very rare, almost unheard of in the realm of children's toys.

    I don't see a principled distinction between the parody being the product itself and the parody promoting a product. Either way, art and commerce are fused, whether the product is a CD containing the parody or a toy associated with the goodwill created by the product.

    The nature of the Beastie Boy's Claim sounds more like a French Moral Rights claim than an American "they're getting our money that's supposed to be ours by selling something we wrote" claim.

  • lynndalsing

    In that that is the law, yes, that is what I would suggest. No question. I am, yes, referring to specific case law in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that if the parody was the product commercial sale didn't bar the use of the "fair use" defense. Meaning that commercial sale typically bars the use of that defense, which would mean that use in an ad (where you aren't selling the parody, but rather another product) WOULD bar the defense.

    In addition, there is the fact that the court makes a distinction between parody and satire (where one is aimed specifically at the work and the other is aimed at a broader social construct). So there's a possibility, based on GoldieBlox's statements, that this could be considered satire rather than parody, which would make it much less likely to fall under fair use. (Same case).

    Other appellate court cases that have heard similar cases have decided in favor of defendants when (again, this is critical) the commercial sale in question is of the parody itself.

    This is not a parody in the fair use sense. Transformative is totally irrelevant if you can't get over the hill of being eligible to be considered fair use. Typically, benefiting commercially would bar you from that (unless it is the parody itself that you are selling).

    To my recollection, your recollection has never been cited in a court case ever. Just because you don't see the distinction doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It is, in fact, part of Supreme Court case law.

    Just for the record, claiming Fair Use at all does concede that a copyright infringement took place. If it didn't, fair use doesn't even need to come into the question.

    That said, nothing is ever game over, which is the beauty of our justice system: it can shift and adapt. I, for one, hope that it doesn't shift to let people rip off the work of others and profit from it.

  • Devi

    Sorry, if they have to preemptively sue someone for "fair use", it's pretty obvious they realized the original artist isn't going to think it's fair...do they really need or want that kind of controversy and antagonism? To me it smacks of "Girls can't do anything without boys helping". Make up your own darn song, girlies!

  • Ramone

    They had to sue in order to keep from being sued themselves. It's f'd up for sure. And it in this case, re-purposing a song that makes girls out to be worthless except for sex is FAR more effective than "making up their own darn song".