GoldieBlox vs. Beastie Boys: Who’s Goliath?

The meteoric rise and unexpected, confusing disappearance of a viral video has been on my mind all day.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Smart, savvy female engineer notices that there is a serious lack of women in her industry. Builds a product – GoldieBlox – with the goal of changing things by engaging girls with engineering toys (rather than catering to the typical princess/maternal/sugar and spice, everything nice motifs).

The toys seem to be pretty wicked – so wicked that the company is quickly funded on Kickstarter and soon after that, picked up by Toys R’ Us. Brilliant.

They upped their game just a couple weeks ago with an insanely catchy YouTube video of three girls who created an incredible Rube Goldberg machine (with the help of the guy who made OK GO’s incredible contraption) to the tune of a completely reworked version of The Beastie Boys’ “Girls”.

9 million views later…I can’t show it to you. Well, I can show you this version..

But where’s the song? Where are the views? Why isn’t this video….as good?

Turns out, the Beastie Boys weren’t consulted before the video was created by GoldieBlox. Turns out…they also have a pretty strong policy about not using their songs for product advertising (in part, due to one of the final requests in Adam Yauche’s will).

The video was pulled today, 9 million views and countless media mentions later, with GoldieBlox was first touted as a revolutionary, then either positioned as the victims (those big bad Beastie Boys) or villians (who’s suing who?) in a debate about fair use and the definition of parody.

All this controversial momentum came to a halt when the video was removed and a statement released by founder, Debra Sterling.

From the GoldieBlox Blog:

“We don’t want to fight with you. We love you and we are actually huge fans…
“Although we believe our parody video falls under fair use, we would like to respect his [Adam Yauch’s] wishes and yours…

“We don’t want to spend our time fighting legal battles. We want to inspire the next generation. We want to be good role models. And we want to be your friends.”

In many articles, the question of right and wrong in this case is being confused and manipulated to create a clearly defined view of ‘who’s the hero’. Is the mission behind GoldieBlox (which is still a product…on shelves…being sold…at a profit – let’s not get this so confused that we start to see them as an altruistic endeavor) more important than the legal rights of the band? Or are the Beastie Boys (who originally wrote a song that is undeniably misogynistic, albeit incredibly catchy) being taken advantage of? Should they just “let it go”?

The truth is, in this case, the bad guy doesn’t exist. Well, arguably the bad guy lives in the way copyright law is structured (Matthew Ingram’s position is the most articulate view I’ve read on this so far) – but ultimately both GoldieBlox and the Beastie Boys have their own – completely legitimate – interests at stake.

From a communications perspective, GoldieBlox will likely still come out ahead with such an incredible boost in publicity and awareness around the product – a product that ultimately could have a pretty awesome impact on a lot of young girls. But at the same time, hats off to The Beastie Boys for keeping it classy – even while fighting for their right to determine where (and with what) their work goes in the world.

It will be an interesting to see whether either party responds further – and how this potentially impacts GoldieBlox’s chances at being featured during the Superbowl. Hopefully both parties can continue to keep things above board, without bringing lawyers back to the table. It’s probably too much to ask them to spend more time articulating their perspectives so we can all have a productive debate about copyright and fair use issues…but I can dream, right? Regardless, the conversation needs to continue – without getting caught up in the nuances, niceties and negative aspects of either company’s argument in this very specific scenario.

Posted on: November 27th, 2013 by

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