Beastie Boys Fire Back at GoldieBlox in Fight Over 'Girls'

A Confusing Legal Situation as Toy Company Vies for a Super Bowl Berth

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A media storm -- a rather confusing media storm -- has broken out over a one-week old YouTube video. It pits a Kickstarter-funded toy company against the Beastie Boys. Watch the video at the heart of the battle, then scroll down for the backstory.

GoldieBlox is barely a year old. It was started by Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-educated engineer, through a Kickstarter crowdfunding drive launched on Sept. 18, 2012, that pulled in $285,881 from 5,519 backers. Per Sterling's Kickstarter pitch:

When I was a little girl, I thought the word, "engineering" was nerdy and intimidating and just for boys. I've since learned I was so wrong. Engineers build all the important things we use every day... things that make our lives better. The scary truth is that only 11% of engineers are women and girls start losing interest in science as young as age 8! This is our chance to change that statistic.

I'm creating GoldieBlox to inspire girls the way Legos and Erector sets have inspired boys, for over 100 years, to develop an early interest and skill set in engineering. It's time to motivate our girls to help build our future.

Fast forward a year. On Nov. 17, GoldieBlox published the video above, titled "GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg, & Beastie Boys 'Princess Machine' (a concert for little girls)," on YouTube, and it quickly went viral. Then, last Thursday, the toy startup filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court in Northern California seeking "declaratory and injunctive relief to vindicate the rights of toy company GoldieBlox in connection with a parody video set to the tune of the Beastie Boys' highly sexist song 'Girls.'" (Special thanks to The Hollywood Reporter for posting the full document on Scribd.) The complaint is a fascinating and entertaining read. Here's an excerpt:

In the lyrics of the Beastie Boys' song entitled Girls, girls are limited (at best) to household chores, and are presented as useful only to the extent they fulfill the wishes of the male subjects. The GoldieBlox Girls Parody Video takes direct aim at the song both visually and with a revised set of lyrics celebrating the many capabilities of girls. Set to the tune of Girls but with a new recording of the music and new lyrics, girls are heard singing an anthem celebrating their broad set of capabilities -- exactly the opposite of the message of the original. They are also shown engaging in activities far beyond what the Beastie Boys song would permit. GoldieBlox created its parody video specifically to comment on the Beastie Boys song, and to further the company's goal to break down gender stereotypes and to encourage young girls to engage in activities that challenge their intellect, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Curiously, in the filing GoldieBlox doesn't dwell on its apparent primary goal: selling toys. The fact that the "Girls" parody video functions as a commercial for GoldieBlox is what reportedly bothers the Beastie Boys. The confusing thing is that GoldieBlox's complaint alleges that "the Beastie Boys have now threatened GoldieBlox with copyright infringement," but this morning the Beasties fired back with an open letter to GoldieBlox, first reported by The New York Times:

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.

Further complicating the narrative: Intuit is doing something called the Small Business Big Game project, which will award a Super Bowl TV commercial to one small business. GoldieBlox is a finalist -- though it's unclear if the company's has, or had, specific plans to adapt its Beasties parody for a TV spot.

Where do you stand on the GoldieBlox vs. Beastie Boys -- or Beastie Boys vs. GoldieBlox -- battle? Please comment below.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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