Navigate to News section

Appropriating The Beastie Boys to Empower Girls

A lawsuit brings about quite an ethical conundrum

Adam Chandler
November 25, 2013

Last August, we reported on the last wishes of Adam “MCA” Yauch, one-third of Brooklyn’s famous rap/rock group the Beastie Boys, which included a provision in his will that his music not be used in advertising. This still strikes me (and most fans, I’d guess) as pretty representative of an artist of unimpeachable integrity.

Or as David Samuels said in his tribute to Yauch in the hours following his death:

What I want said here is that Adam Yauch was a rare mensch in a world populated by natural-born assholes and egomaniacs and by people who are high or scared or both. I don’t mean to suggest that he wasn’t one of Brooklyn’s finest white rappers and a city kid to the core. But rap music will survive his death. What has been lost is a model of how to live as a humble yet active and entirely responsible citizen of the world and also, at the same time, as a rock star, which is something that few human beings have the emotional capacity—including the knowledge of their own uniqueness and also the tolerance for their own limitations, and the limitations of others—to manage.

This brings us, hardly a year after his death, to a controversy over the appropriation of the Beastie Boys’ music. The GoldieBlox toy company, which admirably (albeit uncreatively) makes toys for girls meant to shatter typical gender roles, used the Beastie Boys song “Girls” to hawk its wares in a video that is quickly going viral.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, GoldieBlox filed a lawsuit on Thursday, November 21, claiming that the Beastie Boys recently threatened the toymakers with copyright infringement. Per the complaint: “Lawyers for the Beastie Boys claim that the GoldieBlox Girls Parody Video is a copyright infringement, is not a fair use, and that GoldieBlox’s unauthorized use of the Beastie Boys intellectual property is a ‘big problem’ that has a ‘very significant impact.’”

The story that’s emerged is that this poor toy company has been hectored into submission by the remaining Beastie Boys. Today, Mike D and AdRock posted an open letter to express their admiration and disappointment as well as to clear the record.

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. We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.

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.

Fair or foul? You decide. Here’s the video below:

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.