GoldieBlox – When Permission Trumps Forgiveness

GoldieBlox was recently featured in a post here for their promotional video for their Princess Machine product, which is geared toward young girls learning basic building skills.  The video featured a Rube Goldberg contraption unfolding as a reworked edition of The Beastie Boys song “Girls” played.  There were new lyrics performed by girls, but it would be hard to confuse it as a totally original work.

You can no longer view the video in the post.  Or on the GoldieBlox website, or on YouTube.

GoldieBlox figured they could use the song without permission or compensation from The Beastie Boys based on the fair use doctrine claiming that the video was a parody.  While that could be something for the courts to decide, the group has a history of rejecting the use of their music in commercials (deceased member Adam Yauch had such language in his will) and seeking relief in the courts.  The group reasonably concluded that the video was intended (at least in part) to help sell Princess Machines.  The group issued an open letter (H/T The Hollywood Reporter and The Wire) to explain its position.  Per The Hollywood Reporter:

“the band released a letter saying while it was ‘impressed by the creativity and the message’ of the Goldieblox video, ‘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.'”

It would appear that GoldieBlox, after not first asking permission, skipped asking for forgiveness and asked the courts to declare their video permissible through fair use.  They claimed a threat of lawsuit from The Beastie Boys, a claim the group denies.  GoldieBlox has pulled the original video, substituting another one with a generic music track, and issuing a letter of apology.  I suspect the company was not willing to engage in a lengthy legal dispute (this issue is maybe just a small part of the backlash against the company).

No word on how this dispute may affect the company’s standing in the Intuit-sponsored competition for a commercial spot in the 2014 Super Bowl (If this post disappears, blame the No Fun League).  The videos on the competition website are from company founders telling their stories.  While I suppose they could be the eventual commercial, I would still expect GoldieBlox to use the video with girls using their product, even if “Girls” isn’t the soundtrack.