The parody music video is a staple of pop gender studies, but girl-focused toy company GoldieBlox is accused of crossing the line between commentary and commercial exploitation. In late November, the company posted a YouTube video taking aim at a homogeneous "pink and pretty" toy aisle, showing a trio of girls building a Rube Goldberg machine while singing a rewritten version of the Beastie Boys' song "Girls." But according to GoldieBlox, the band accused it of copyright infringement and called the unauthorized rewrite a "big problem," leading GoldieBlox to preemptively ask for a court ruling on its legality. Now, an open letter from the Beastie Boys in The New York Times reiterates that the band doesn't want its music in an ad, no matter what it thinks of the larger message.
"Like many of the millions of people who have seen your toy commercial 'GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg & the Beastie Boys,' we were very impressed by the creativity and the message behind your ad," writes the band. "We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering." But even if the video is meant to showcase girls' creativity, it's still ultimately selling the GoldieBlox toy line. "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."
"The GoldieBlox Girls Parody Video takes direct aim at the song."
The lawsuit is a defensive measure against a possible cease and desist order, asking a court to declare its parody a legal fair use. Its argument is that it's directly subverting the lyrics of "Girls," commenting on a sexist worldview that GoldieBlox toys are supposed to undermine. "In the lyrics of the Beastie Boys' original song, girls are limited (at best) to household chores, and are presented as useful only to the extent they fulfill the wishes of the male singers," reads the filing. "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. ... girls are heard singing an anthem celebrating their broad set of capabilities — exactly the opposite of the message of the original." The company has covered a Queen song for an earlier viral video, to less parodic effect.
Among other things, the song replaces the lyrics "Girls - to do the dishes / Girls - to clean up my room / Girls - to do the laundry / Girls - and in the bathroom" with "Girls to build the spaceship / Girls to code the new app / Girls to grow up knowing / That they can engineer that." There's a history of commercial parodies being ruled legal, primarily a suit by Roy Orbison over "Oh, Pretty Woman" — in 1994, a court found that 2 Live Crew could legally sell a parody of the song, since although it used the same basic riff and opening lines, it subverted the lyrics. In this case especially, going to court over a girl-power viral video seems like a bad idea for the Beastie Boys.