GoldieBlox, an Oakland-based company that makes science and technology themed toys for girls, parodied the Beastie Boys’ song “Girls” in a commercial.
The parodied video had changed the Beastie Boys’ “Girls” lyrics to the following to reflect the company:
“Girls to build a 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/
To bring us up to speed, it’s girls/
Our opportunity is girls/
Don’t underestimate girls.”
The Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, who died from cancer in 2012 at the age of 47, famously wrote in his will that he prohibited the use of his image or music in an advertisement ever.
In November 2013, GoldieBlox preemptively sued the Beastie Boys, citing “fair use” for the rights to the song, but they also pulled the commercial from the internet.
The Beastie Boys released an open letter in November in response to the controversy, which noted the band’s commitment to not selling out:
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.
GoldieBlox responded with a letter that said they had not known about Adam Yauch’s dying wish, but they would like to respect it:
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 counterclaim from the band pursued copyright and trademark infringement, false advertising, false endorsement, unfair competition, and other claims.
“Unfortunately, rather than developing an original advertising campaign to inspire its customers to create and innovate, GoldieBlox has instead developed an advertising campaign that condones and encourages stealing from others,” the counterclaim stated.
The suit also claimed that GoldieBlox had committed copyright infringement many times before, having used well-known songs from “popular artists in an effort to achieve the company’s primary goal of selling toys,” including Queen, Daft Punk, Avicii, Slam, k.flay, Trevor Guthrie, and others.