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Beastie Boys and GoldieBlox Tussle Over Fair Use in ‘Girls’ Video

| Tuesday November 26th, 2013 | 3 Comments

GB_Box_v6_6_2013Last year, I interviewed Debbie Sterling, founder and inventor of GoldieBlox, a line of toys and books designed to encourage girls to become interested in engineering principles and STEM careers. At that time, I was impressed with the extensive research and thought she put into the products and hoped that its Kickstarter campaign would succeed.

Turns out it more than succeeded – it went beyond its goal and GoldieBlox is now available in stores (disclosure: I ordered one for my daughter for Christmas). On top of that, GoldieBlox and three other sustainable endeavors are finalists in the Intuit competition for a Super Bowl ad.

To promote the fledgling company and garner votes for the competition, GoldieBlox created an attention-catching video of three girls who use a Rube Goldberg contraption (think MouseTrap game) that spans the house and the yard. It’s clever and cute, set to the tune of the mid-1980s song, “Girls,” by the Beastie Boys and has 8 million views to date. However, now the Beastie Boys are protesting the use of the song, leading to the beginnings of a legal war between the toy company and the band.

It all started when Intuit decided to give small businesses a chance to be seen and heard at the Super Bowl. Each company submitted a video and began rounds of voting until just four were left:

  • Barley Labs – uses barley left over from beer brewing to make all-natural dog treats.
  • Dairy Poop – repurposes cow poop as fertilizer.
  • Locally Laid - sells free-range hen eggs, keeps their chickens in solar-powered hen houses and created an egg carton return program.
  • GoldieBlox – created a line of books and toys geared toward encouraging girls to become interested in STEM careers.

November marks the final round of voting (through December 1) and in the past week, GoldieBlox’s video has gone viral, inspiring audiences and bringing its brand into the spotlight.

GoldieBlox was riding a wave of praise and popularity, being featured in many news outlets and rocketing the video to 8 million views. Much was made of the toy company turning the “Girls” song on its head – whereas the original lyrics dismisses women,

Girls, to do the dishes
Girls, to clean up my room
Girls, to do the laundry
Girls, and in the bathroom
Girls, that’s all I really want is girls…

the GoldieBlox version empowers them,

Girls — to build the spaceship,
Girls — to code the new app,
Girls — to grow up knowing,
That they can engineer that,
Girls. That’s all we really need is girls…

Now the Beastie Boys are publicly protesting the use of their song without permission, and GoldieBlox has swiftly turned around and filed suit claiming fair use, since they hired different vocalists, changed the lyrics and turned it into a parody. The Beastie Boys, in turn, dispute this, and reiterate that they have never allowed their songs to be used to sell products.

Part of the problem might be that by resurrecting “Girls,” GoldieBlox is spotlighting the band’s misogynistic past. The rappers were once openly contemptuous of women (both in song lyrics and set design), and during their tours were known for featuring women in cages and a giant inflatable penis as stage decoration. In later years, however, the band, led by lead singer Adam Yauch, apologized for their previous attitudes and got behind the feminist movement. It’s unfortunate, then, that the band and the toy company, who are arguably on the same side in many ways, can’t agree to come together and support the movement of girls embracing STEM careers.

What party is right? The courts will decide eventually. I’ll admit that I am still cheering for GoldieBlox to win the competition and have their ad featured during the Super Bowl. I think the video is compelling and the reuse of the song is clever, not malicious. Is it legal? I don’t know. However, the company’s success so far shows that girls (and boys) are responding to these educational toys and books that bring engineering principles down to an elementary grade level, and I support that effort.

But, the best thing about the Intuit competition is that all four companies have a sustainable mission, so no matter which one wins, a small sustainable business will share the spotlight, right alongside the tacky beer commercials and always-present Doritos ads, and reaching an audience that size with a sustainable message can only be a good thing.


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  • Darren Beem

    I’m not sure that the standard is whether the video is malicious or not, the video is clever and funny, but it’s also clearly intended to be an advertisement. My guess is that someone at Goldiebox dropped the ball. Just because the Beasties were mysognistic in their early careers, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the protection of the law.

    • Symone

      But people do parodies all the time. How about Weird Al? What are the legal ramifications of parodies?

      • m11_9

        Its obviously a parody. The words and the feelings of the artists don’t matter.