GoldieBlox, Inc. v. Island Def Jam Music Group
By Elise Young – Edited by Alex Shank
Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief, GoldieBlox, Inc. v. Island Def Jam Music Group, A Div. of UMG Recordings, Inc., No. 3:13-cv-05428 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 21, 2013)
Complaint hosted by Scribd
Over the last few weeks, hip-hop group the Beastie Boys and GoldieBlox, a start-up company in the business of developing engineering toys for girls, started down the path towards copyright litigation over use of the Beastie Boys’ song “Girls” in a GoldieBlox advertisement. On November 21, after the Beastie Boys’ legal counsel threatened suit, GoldieBlox filed for declaratory judgment that its use of the song was fair use. Complaint, at 2–3. The Beastie Boys responded with an open letter emphasizing the group’s consistent refusal to allow use of their songs in advertising. On November 27, GoldieBlox removed the advertisement and promised to drop the suit if the Beastie Boys’ legal team similarly backed down. GigaOM provides an overview of the fight and some legal analysis on the fair use issue. Forbes examines GoldieBlox’s change in strategy. Mashable discusses how the disagreement benefits GoldieBlox’s PR.
GoldieBlox’s original advertisement featured girls building a Rube Goldberg-type machine and a parody of the Beastie Boys’ song, replacing, for example, the lyrics, “Girls — to do the dishes” with “Girls — to build the spaceship.” Jeff John Roberts, Are the Beastie Boys Picking on Science-Loving Girls? The Copyright Case Is Not So Simple, GigaOM.com (Nov. 25, 2013). The video went viral and had received nine million views before it was removed. Todd Wasserman, Never Mind the Lawyers, GoldieBlox Won Big in Beastie Boys Fight, Mashable.com (Nov. 27, 2013). GoldieBlox argued that their use was a parody because it replaced originally sexist lyrics with lyrics “celebrating the many capabilities of girls,” thus qualifying as fair use. Complaint at 5–6. In determining whether GoldieBlox’s use was fair, the court would have assessed 1) the purpose and character of GoldieBlox’s use, including whether it was commercial; 2) the nature of the Beastie Boys’ copyrighted work; 3) the amount of the work used; and 4) the effect on the potential market for the copyrighted work. 17 U.S.C. § 107. Works deemed parody (as opposed to satire) frequently qualify for fair use. See, e.g., Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994). However, the song’s use in an advertisement — a commercial purpose — would likely weigh against a fair use finding under the first factor. See Roberts, Picking on Science-Loving Girls?.
The case will likely never go to trial, since GoldieBlox announced it would drop the suit if the Beastie Boys agreed to forego legal action. The company replaced the advertisement with one featuring an instrument-only track. The quick turnaround is leading some, like Mashable, to question whether the original advertisement was an intentional PR stunt designed to attract the legal ire of the Beastie Boys. Indeed, GoldieBlox has received consistent media attention (from Forbes, CNN, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and many others) over the last few weeks as a result of the battle, and the company’s goal of empowering young girls has made that attention largely positive. The timing could not be better for the company, as it is a finalist in Intuit’s “Small Business, Big Game” competition, the winner of which nets a Super Bowl ad. Wasserman, Never Mind Lawyers.