When GoldieBlox removed a parody of the Beastie Boys' song "Girls" from an ad for its toys, it seemed like a brief but heated debate over fair use and copyright ethics was over. Apparently we were wrong, as the Beastie Boys have now sued the toymaker for copyright and trademark infringement and demanded a jury trial. "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," they write, asking for court costs, lost profits from infringement, money earned by GoldieBlox as a result of the ads, and a permanent injunction against any further use of the re-recorded song.
"GoldieBlox has ... developed an advertising campaign that condones and encourages stealing."
The court document, published at GigaOm, has brought to light a few more details about what exactly happened between the two. We'd already known that GoldieBlox re-recorded the song that the Beastie Boys describe as "a sarcastic anthem," changing the lyrics to promote girls in engineering and science instead of (as per the original song) doing dishes, laundry, and cleaning. While the song didn't mention any GoldieBlox products, it was still implicitly an ad, and its popularity exploded. But the creators didn't ask the Beastie Boys for permission to parody the song, and when a representative of the Beastie Boys contacted them, they filed a claim asking a court to declare that it was legally protected fair use. As the new filing shows, that apparently happened after the Beastie Boys learned of the video through an advertising agency, which contacted them while submitting the video to a contest offering a 30-second Super Bowl spot.
After a heated open letter from the Beastie Boys, GoldieBlox apologized and removed the song, saying it would drop its court case, though it still believed the video was a legal parody. But the Beastie Boys claim that the ad is the latest in a series of infringing videos, including one set to a re-recorded version of Queen's "We are the Champions." It's not completely clear that these songs were also unlicensed, though GoldieBlox didn't immediately respond to a request for more information. But either way, the band thinks that the parody's commercial purpose puts it beyond the edges of fair use, and that by using the Beastie Boys name in conjunction with the video, GoldieBlox was also infringing on its trademark.
The Beastie Boys claim that the parody directly translated into a "massive increase" in sales for GoldieBlox, but the bigger question might simply be the video's existence: the band has taken a hard line against licensing its songs for ads, and leaving the question unsettled could open the door for future issues. That also, however, makes it a potentially risky move. There's hardly a cut-and-dried copyright case against GoldieBlox, and losing the parody suit would be a worse outcome than simply letting it slide. The trademark question, meanwhile, will hinge on whether the mention of the Beastie Boys' name in the YouTube video description misled viewers into thinking the band was officially affiliated with an unauthorized parody.