Last week, we showed you this new advertisement from the girls toy company GoldieBlox, spoofing the Beastie Boys’ song “Girls.” Well, the company’s use of the song has sparked a legal battle over copyright infringement — but before you assume that it’s the Beastie Boys suing GoldieBlox, think again. According to The Hollywood Reporter, while the band claims that the inclusion of “Girls” in the video doesn’t fall under fair use and is a “big problem” that has a “very significant impact,” it’s GoldieBlox that’s preemptively suing the Beastie Boys, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to “vindicate the rights” of the toy company. Their argument is that the lyrics to “Girls” are sexist and therefore their use of that song in an ad related to little girls’ empowerment qualifies as “parody.”
The Beastie Boys themselves have long ago apologized for and distanced themselves from “Girls.” They included an apology for the lyrics in the liner notes of their Best Of album, refuse to play the song live, and won’t allow it to be included in any greatest hits albums or compilations. So yes, GoldieBlox certainly has the Beastie Boys own public remarks on “Girls” to support their argument that the song is sexist and poking fun at it in their ad would qualify as parody. GoldieBlox says its objective was to “make fun of the Beastie Boys song, and to further the company’s goal to break down gender stereotypes and to encourage young girls to engage in activities that challenge their intellect, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.”
However, when Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch died last year from cancer, he made it explicitly clear in his will that he did not want the Beastie Boys music to be used in advertisements. All that being said, the Beastie Boys never expressed an intent to sue GoldieBlox, so GoldieBlox’s preemptive lawsuit is offensive rather than defensive and pretty shady if you ask me. A representative for the Beastie Boys explained: “There was no complaint filed, no demand letter (no demand, for that matter) when [GoldieBlox] sued Beastie Boys.”
GoldieBlox seems like they’re doing cool stuff, but at the end of the day, they’re still a company tryin’ to make some coin. While I certainly see how their use of “Girls” would qualify as parody, “parody” is NOT a good enough reason to rip off an artist’s work in order to sell products, even if it comes with some girls’ empowerment on the side. [Huffington Post]
Guys, this is a big fucking deal. BFD, as I like to say. I agree that credit should be given where credit is due, but what this Frisky author fails to realize is how critical the right to parody is. It may seem like a way for companies to rip off artists, but 1. The Beastie Boys made money off of a sexist, albeit pretty ok, song- now they’re not making money off of a commercial that changes the song’s message to something empowering and awesome. I’m certainly not losing any sleep. 2. Imagine the world without parody protection- sure, it’s a fine line, but it’s a line that protects dissenters and voices of reason. SNL, Jimmy Fallon etc. would have no material! The point of parody protection is to allow those without the ability to buy rights, or an ideological reason not to, to express themselves. This isn’t stealing, it’s a statement. If you take away the right to parody, you take away the accountability everyone should have if they produce something.
This case will be far more important than people think. This case will set a precedent for whether or not gender equality is considered enough of an “issue” to be protected. If the Beastie Boys win, it will send the message that parody and dissent are ok so long as they don’t question the gender hierarchy. It will send the message that to be racially oppressed, socio-economically oppressed, etc.- those are “real” issues. It will resign feminism to realm of hobbies- something for rich white ladies like Sheryl Sandberg and Betty Freidan to muse about in their free time.
If parody does not extend to making fun of the ridiculous gender essentialism that passes for normal these days, feminism will be trivialized for the billionth time, in the billionth trial, in the billionth battle for a voice that is taken seriously. If you think GoldieBlox is just trying to “make some coin” you don’t know nearly enough about them. Gendered schooling and toys are the first exposure to essentialism kids get. A world where girls believe they can be engineers, astronauts and doctors is a world with more female engineers, astronauts and doctors.
BFD, guys, BFD.