Missed Opportunity: Beastie Boys Should Have Supported Viral Parody 'Girls' Song, Rather Than Claiming Infringement
from the this-is-unfortunate dept
Well, this is rather disappointing. The Beastie Boys relied significantly on fair use for a lot of their music. The famed “Paul’s Boutique” album, which did license some samples, is still involved in lawsuits, and a recent look at the insane cost of sampling has suggested that with today’s licensing rates, there’s simply no way to legally produce an album like that today. Given that, you’d think and hope that the Beastie Boys themselves wouldn’t go around acting like copyright bullies. And, historically, they’ve mostly avoided doing so. That’s why it’s so disappointing to see that they’ve threatened the toy company GoldieBlox for the video it produced, which parodies the Beaties’ classic song Girls (which samples a few songs itself), by changing the lyrics in a way that clearly comments on the misogynistic lyrics of the original. Here’s the video, which went super viral earlier this week:
Unfortunately, however, the Beastie Boys, along with Universal Music, sent a letter to GoldieBlox threatening a copyright infringement claim. GoldieBlox decided to strike first, and has filed for a declaratory judgment in California — a somewhat risky move. GoldieBlox clearly makes the case that what they’re doing is parody and protected fair use, but courts are notoriously fickle and arbitrary in making fair use decisions.
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. GoldieBlox created its parody video specifically to comment on 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. The GoldieBlox Girls Parody Video has gone viral on the Internet, and has been recognized by the press and the public as a parody and criticism of the original song.
While GoldieBlox was clearly using this for commercial purposes, plenty of commercial activity has been seen as fair use. Further, it seems likely that the viral success of the video almost certainly drove renewed attention (and therefore revenue) to the original Beastie Boys song. This should play into the fair use analysis, but unfortunately many courts focus solely on the “potential licensing revenue” that could have been earned, and ignore the positive impact on the original of a parody. Hopefully, a court will recognize that this is fair use but, again, fair use decisions are almost entirely arbitrary at times.
Either way, it’s really disappointing to see the Beastie Boys choose to go down this path. For years, the band appeared to try to get away from the song itself, recognizing how much criticism they got for the lyrics. Adam Horovitz was quoted in an interview noting that while the song was done “as a goof,” many people took it seriously and the band should have been more cognizant of that. It’s also claimed that the band never performed the song live. Given that, it seems like this would have been an excellent opportunity to embrace the parody, to support the basic message of the video and to show that they didn’t really mean what was said in the original lyrics.
Instead, the (remaining) Beastie Boys come off as copyright bullies, trying to stifle a message of empowerment, while standing firm on a misogynistic message in their own song. Why they’d want to come off that way when they have a clear chance to change the storyline in their favor is beyond me.