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Beastie Boys call video parody 'an advertisement'

by DAVE ITZKOFF New York Times News Service on November 27, 2013 10:50 AM

Over a music career of more than 25 years, the Beastie Boys have evolved from a goofy rap trio to a conscientious band with more nuanced positions on politics and art.

But now that group, which says, on principle, that it does not allow its music to be used in advertisements, has come into conflict with a company that feels just as strongly about its own socially aware messaging and that has gained wide attention with an online video that parodies the Beastie Boys song “Girls.”

On Monday, the band released an open letter to GoldieBlox, a San Francisco-area startup that makes toys and games designed to encourage girls to learn about science and technology.

GoldieBlox had filed a lawsuit Thursday that asserted its right to use the music in the video, which has gone viral, with more than 8 million views.

But the Beastie Boys, in the letter to GoldieBlox, said the video was essentially part of a commercial enterprise and “an advertisement that is designed to sell a product,” for which the band says it does not allow its music to be used.

In the original song, which appeared on the Beastie Boys’ 1986 hip-hop album, “Licensed to Ill,” the band sings:

Girls to do the dishes

Girls to clean up my room

Girls to do the laundry

Girls and in the bathroom.

The online video shows children building an elaborate Rube Goldberg device while singing:

Girls build a spaceship

Girls code the new app

Girls that grow up knowing

That they can engineer that.

GoldieBlox, which has used versions of songs by Queen and other pop artists in its online videos, says that the Beastie Boys had “threatened GoldieBlox with copyright infringement” and that lawyers for the band say the video “is not a fair use.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California and gained widespread media attention before the Beastie Boys had formally responded to it.

GoldieBlox says in its strongly worded complaint that the video was created “specifically to comment on the Beastie Boys song and to further the company’s goal to break down gender stereotypes” and that the video “has been recognized by the press and the public as a parody and criticism of the original song.”

The open letter from the Beastie Boys was attributed to the surviving band members Mike D and Ad-Rock, the stage names of Michael Diamond and Adam Horo-vitz.

A third member, Adam Yauch, known by the stage name MCA, died last year.

The Beastie Boys said in the open letter that they were “impressed by the creativity and the message” of the GoldieBlox video. And, the band said, “We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.”

But, the band continued, “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,” the Beastie Boys said.

Representatives for GoldieBlox did not comment.

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