About a month ago, toy company GoldieBlox created a viral hit with an ad featuring a fascinating Rube Goldberg setup and a parody song of the Beastie Boys’ “Girls” as the soundtrack. GoldieBlox makes toys marketed towards girls that break out of the stereotypically gendered ones normally seen in stores, encouraging the growth of women participating in science, technology, engineering and math careers (STEM). Their video ad’s success on YouTube and beyond came on the heels of a successful Kickstarter campaign and garnered them millions of eyeballs on their products and message.
However, if you go to their channel now, you’ll notice that the version of the video there is quite different from the one I linked to above. Why is that? Well, sometime around Thanksgiving, this happened:
When we made our parody version of your song, ‘Girls’, we did it with the best of intentions. We wanted to transform it into a powerful anthem for girls. Over the past week, parents have sent us pictures and videos of their kids singing 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.
The Beastie Boys had a problem with the parody of their song. This is actually when I first heard about it at Skepchick, one of my favorite blogs. This story has gone back and forth in the press, but GoldieBlox ended up filing a suit calling for injunctive relief. As far as my reading of Wikipedia goes and some other commentary I’ve read, this basically means they sued to get a court to say they weren’t doing anything wrong. The remaining Beastie Boys responded with an open letter of their own:
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.
Last year, the Beastie Boys lost member Adam Yauch to cancer. Later, Rolling Stone reported that his will stipulated that none of his music was to be used in “for advertising purposes.” It appears in the above that the remaining Beastie Boys were honoring this as well. The status of the suit is still pending and Fortune comments that it will likely never go to trial, but also goes on to talk about how damages might be determined if it did.
So how does the comedy web series Broad City come into play? Growing out of the vibrant Upright Citizen’s Brigade comedy troupe, the series gained a small following on YouTube. Amy Poehler is now set to be executive producer of the show at Comedy Central, where it will begin airing in January. And that’s how it came to my attention between segments of The Daily Show. It took me a second while watching the commercial for Broad City, but I quickly noticed the music: “Ch-Check It Out” by the Beastie Boys.
Now, it’s conceivable that this is actually a sketch for which the music was licensed which was then turned around for use as a commercial, but that would seem to still run afoul of both Adam Yauch’s will and the stated wishes of the Beastie Boys as reported in the press.
What do you think?