Fight For Your Rights -- To Be Wrong?

  • by November 26, 2013
Sometimes it’s hard to pick your battles of the sexes; this particular little dust-up has my head spinning.  It’s devolved into a fight between Beastie Boys and Mean Valley Girls. (That’s Silicon Valley.) And so far, I’m siding with the Beasties.

So how did this happen?

Well, once upon a time (last week, actually, but it all goes so quickly in Internet years) this unique, kick-ass video, titled "GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg, & Beastie Boys 'Princess Machine' (a concert for little girls)," was uploaded to You Tube to promote an Oakland, Cali.-based start-up toy company.

Indeed, funded on Kickstarter by Debbie Sterling, a recent Stanford grad, GoldieBlox has taken on the golden mission of crafting  toys that will help girls get interested in science, math, and engineering. The corporate intention is to “disturb the pink aisle.” 

Hallelujah.  Except  the (perhaps) unintended consequence  is that while meaning to take Barbie prisoner, the spot actually was breaking the laws of musical property rights.



But let’s go back to the spot, which has already garnered more than eight million views. Who could possibly object to a message of empowerment for whip-smart little girls?

A production marvel, the video features an insanely detailed Rube Goldberg-like contraption, which allows three passionate, ambitious and diverse little girls on a play date to banish the typical boring princess toys and pink boas from the house, and replace them with visions of building spaceships and coding new apps. (The fact that the miles-long device was engineered by one of the male members of the band OK-Go—and not these cute little actresses-- is another sub-tangent in this off-kilter story.

I first saw the spot on Upworthy, itself a site that prides itself on helping videos about “important social issues” go viral. And indeed, I shared it on Facebook, and all my sister-friends shared it to their pages. And we slept the sleep of the morally superior, unchallenged in the knowledge that we were on the right side of the girl-power issue.

Actually, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Rube Goldberg device was hard to follow and distracting. What really helped get the spot’s message across were the lyrics to the music, sung by young female voices. My favorite line is “We are more than princess maids!”

What I didn’t realize the first time I watched, I’m embarrassed to say, was that the music is a rerecorded Beastie Boys song, “Girls.” Indeed, the spot was based on replacing the unalloyed sexism of  the original lines like “Girls, to do the dishes/Girls to clean up my room/ Girls to do the laundry,” with "Girls to build a spaceship\ Girls to code the new app\ Girls to grow up knowing\ That they can engineer that."

So is this aimed at moms who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s with the Beastie Boys? Because otherwise, wasn’t this song, and its lyrics, forgotten?  

The trouble is, the producers resurrected the music without getting permission, or paying, The Boys. And, in the reverse of what you’d expect, Goldiebox sued them.

And what an odd enemy to pick. The Beasties were three white Jewish boys who certainly didn’t take themselves seriously as rappers. (In fact, they started as a punk band.) They themselves were playing with, or even parodying, the misogynist tropes of hip-hop. Yes, the lyrics were stupid and sexist, but the Boys were being ironic and sarcastic. Later, they became musically important, but in those days, they were seen as clowns.

And sadly, last year one member of the group, Adam Yauch, died at the age of 47.  His will made clear that he forbade the use of any of his music in advertising.

It’s not as if this is a PSA for engineering opportunities for girls. Why should the company get to use the music for free?

There’s another wrinkle here: Instead of running its own Super Bowl commercial, Intuit has decided to run the commercial of a worthy upcoming small business owner. This spot for GoldieBlox is one of three finalists in this contest.

Given all that, and the prospect of a free $4 million dollar media placement, GoldieBlox might have shot itself in the foot. Because there is no way, with all this copyright hoo-ha, that the spot could legally run on the The Big Game.

I would hope that they could work out a compromise deal with the Beastie Boys -- or they’re going to have to change the music.

Both sides have gotten more publicity than anyone could predict.

And in the end, GoldiBlox has acted just like a classic entrepreneurial Silicon Valley startup, with its take-no prisoners, disruptive, culture-jamming behavior: Rules? Laws? You make your own, and take what you need. And if others object, you attack, aggressively. Let the free market rule.

Whether this will sell more “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Wheel” toys for the holidays is to be determined.

But without question, GB  is behaving just like the big boys.

12 comments about "Fight For Your Rights -- To Be Wrong?".
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  1. Barbara Lippert from, November 27, 2013 at 3:02 p.m.

    Okay, everyone! The situation changed overnight, right after this was posted. The Goldie Blox CEO posted a public letter, saying that they had no idea that Adam Yauch did not want this work to appear in ads. (Although it was all over Google.)
    And they said they basically were the victims.
    Certainly the change in music, to all instrumental, no lyrics, makes the spot a lot less powerful. I don't get why they can't include the key lines that were totally changed from the original song.
    And as I pointed out in the column, the words were the s strongest part of it. The Rube Goldberg like device is amazing, but hard to follow and unclear as to how it incorporates the toys.
    Certainly a lesson to get permission FIRST to use music.

  2. Barbara Lippert from, November 27, 2013 at 3:05 p.m.

    here's the new spot. what do you think?

  3. Barbara Lippert from, November 27, 2013 at 3:08 p.m.

    Here's the (DISINGENUOUS) letter from the CEO, Debbie, and her team, to the Beasties:

    Dear Adam and Mike,

    We don’t want to fight with you. We love you and we are actually huge fans.

    When we made our parody version of your song, ‘Girls’, we did it with the best of intentions. We wanted to take a song we weren’t too proud of, and transform it into a powerful anthem for girls. Over the past week, parents have sent us pictures and videos of their kids singing the new lyrics with pride, building their own Rube Goldberg machines in their living rooms and declaring an interest in engineering. It’s been incredible to watch.

    Our hearts sank last week when your lawyers called us with threats that we took very seriously. As a small company, we had no choice but to stand up for ourselves. We did so sincerely hoping we could come to a peaceful settlement with you.

    We want you to know that when we posted the video, we were completely unaware that the late, great Adam Yauch had requested in his will that the Beastie Boys songs never be used in advertising. Although we believe our parody video falls under fair use, we would like to respect his wishes and yours.

    Since actions speak louder than words, we have already removed the song from our video. In addition, we are ready to stop the lawsuit as long as this means we will no longer be under threat from your legal team.

    We don’t want to spend our time fighting legal battles. We want to inspire the next generation. We want to be good role models. And we want to be your friends.


    Debbie + Team GoldieBlox

    Leave a comment

  4. Kevin Barry from Barry Marketing & Media, November 27, 2013 at 3:34 p.m.

    Wait...GoldieBlox CEO thinks their video falls under fair use? Fair use in a commercial? In what universe?
    Nice notpology.

  5. Suzanne Sease from Suzanne Sease Productions, Inc, November 27, 2013 at 3:56 p.m.

    She knew exactly what she was doing as I am sure infringement is taught at Stanford. She is from the generation of doing what you want and if you get caught you blame the person you infringed upon. I am the generation of doing things honestly and can say I can look at myself in the mirror knowing I am ethnical. With the letter she wrote them is proof she doesn't get that and just like you said "she is no different from the big boys".

  6. Barbara Lippert from, November 27, 2013 at 3:56 p.m.

    I love this "as a small company" thing-- like,the least you could do was not get upset when we rerecorded your music without getting permission or thinking of paying you.

  7. Christopher McHale from Ikonik Radio Music, November 27, 2013 at 4 p.m.

    They knew what they were doing, They just didn't care.

  8. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, November 27, 2013 at 4:26 p.m.

    I agree with Suzanne Sease and Christopher McHale. She knew exactly what fair use was and decided to go for it anyway. To play the victim simply stinks, and is hypocritical, disingenuous, and any other number of other big words to indicate shameful behavior.

  9. Sherri Maxwell from Creative Underground, November 27, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.

    I have to ask, what about Weird Al Yankovic and his Parody of soooo many songs? He changes the lyrics, even mimicked the videos, musically same.....? There is nothing wrong with parody.

    Could there be another reason behind this particular commercial?

    Visually Andy Warhol's style has been used in print so many times, and the Rutles were a rip of The Beatles, this isn't new at all.

    I personally would have passed it by the legal department for sure, but parody is completely allowed and is a first amendment right.

  10. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, November 27, 2013 at 4:46 p.m.

    Parody for commercial purposes is not a first amendment right. You have a right as an artist or as a citizen to comment on other people's works, and even to make a living from your commentary. But you do not have the right to include it in a commercial enterprise designed to earn profit not directly tied to the parody, (namely selling the product) without compensation to the original creator. Signed - Owen Marshall, Counselor At Law.

  11. Barbara Lippert from, November 27, 2013 at 4:51 p.m.

    wish I could "like" all your comments! Right on!

  12. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 27, 2013 at 7:36 p.m.

    If they were that creative and that concerned about teaching girls about moving forward, then they would have had a song written for them or written their own song without teaching theft and unethical behavior.

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