Last week, a Rube Goldberg-influenced commercial for GoldieBlox—a scientific toy “for girls”—went viral, in part due to its creative use of the Beastie Boys' song “Girls.” Unsurprisingly, the Beastie Boys weren’t happy about the (apparently unauthorized) use of the track, even though the idea of the commercial—that girls can be engineers, astronauts, brain surgeons, and so on—does jibe with the band’s lefty politics.
Over the weekend, it was reported that the Boys had sued GoldieBlox, though that has since been debunked. According to a statement Mike D and AdRock, while they were “impressed by the creativity and message… long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name” in ads for commercial products. And when the group “tried to simply ask how and why our song 'Girls' had been used” without permission, GoldieBlox turned around and preemptively sued the Beastie Boys.
While that sort of litigation might seem a little hasty, the toy company does actually have some legal rationale behind the move. According to GoldieBlox:
“In the lyrics of the Beastie Boys’ song entitled “Girls,” girls are limited (at best) to household chores, and are presented as useful only to the extent they fulfill the wishes of the male subjects. The GoldieBlox Girls Parody Video takes direct aim at the song both visually and with a revised set of lyrics celebrating the many capabilities of girls. Set to the tune of Girls but with a new recording of the music and new lyrics, girls are heard singing an anthem celebrating their broad set of capabilities—exactly the opposite of the message of the original. They are also shown engaging in activities far beyond what the Beastie Boys song would permit.”
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As Vice points out, the toy company’s use of “Girls” thus “fits pretty perfectly into the definition of 'parody,' something that has been treated as a fair use, even for commercial purposes, since the Supreme Court decided Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (involving 2 Live Crew’s 'Pretty Woman') in 1994.” Granted, it would have been cool for GoldieBlox to actually ask the band before launching a whole elaborate advertising campaign based around the song. But sometimes it’s just easier to do first and get permission later. Just ask the Beastie Boys.