The Beastie Boys Are Entirely Right to Sue GoldieBlox Despite the Apology

The GoldieBlox vs. Beastie Boys saga rolls on. (If you missed it the first time around, our resident legal expert Michelle Dean wrote a fine summation here.) Last week the company withdrew its viral ad for non-gender specific toys, which used a song that was either a parody or a rip-off of the Beastie Boys’ “Girls” (depending on whose you argument you accept), and issued a rather high-handed apology: “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.” This clearly cut no mustard with the Beastie Boys, who yesterday filed a suit against the company regardless.

If you’re like many people on the Internet, your instinctive reaction might be something along the lines of: hey, GoldieBlox pulled the ad and apologized, so why are the Beastie Boys being assholes about it? The thing is, though, GoldieBlox are playing a dirty game here, relying on the goodwill generated by what was certainly a great piece of advertising. Their “we want to be your friends” announcement was pretty disingenuous — by pulling down the ad, they make themselves look like the good guys, but they’ve already gotten what they wanted, viz. a whole lot of publicity, and they’ve gotten it for free.

After all, if this was an ad for, say, a bank or a car or some other avatar of shitty commercialism, everyone would be on the Beastie Boys’ side. This is a band that has been clear throughout its career that it doesn’t want to license its music (it was MCA’s dying wish, for Chrissakes), and along comes a company and just takes it anyway. And then, when the band says, hey, wait a sec, the company in question files a preemptive lawsuit against them. The commercial goes viral, the company’s product gets a huge boost, and the band don’t get paid a cent.

A few days later, the company magnanimously withdraw their preemptive lawsuit [Correction: The GoldieBlox lawsuit has not been withdrawn] say, hey, look, let’s pretend just the whole thing never happened. What does the band do? Pretty much exactly what the Beastie Boys have done here: tell the company to go fuck themselves, and lawyer up. The whole thing’s a great shame, because GoldieBlox’s product and the philosophy it espouses both seem admirable (although, given the cynicism of this whole affair, you do have to wonder). But either way, it doesn’t change the fundamental principle at play here: you can’t just take a band’s music and not pay them for it.

And, y’know, good. That’s the way it should be. I hope the Beastie Boys’ lawyers don’t crush GoldieBlox into oblivion, because they probably could — but at the same time, they’re well within their rights to seek compensation for the use of their music to generate publicity for someone else’s product. The fact that the product in question is cute and/or laudable doesn’t change that principle one bit.