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November 26, 2013 | Entertainment LawFrom the blogMediaNews

Beastie Boys (. . . and GIRLS!): who’s suing whom?

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Domenic Romano
Domenic Romano

Founder & Managing Partner

The Beastie Boys turned heads in 1986 with the “absurdist rhymes” in their Def Jam debut: Licensed to Ill.  In the track “Girls,” Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz spins a tale of lost love, longing for a female companion to clean up his bedroom and bathroom and do his dishes and laundry.

GoldieBlox, which specializes in engineering and construction toys for girls, combined the Girls music with much more empowering lyrics in its own take on the tune.  The able-minded girls in the commercial build an impressive Rube Goldberg machine and sing praises to GoldieBlox toys, which cater to girls who “are all more than princess maids.”  27 years after the release of Girls, the Beastie Boys went on the offensive and threatened the California-based toy company with copyright infringement. 

Taking a page from Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I., GoldieBlox beat the Beastie Boys to the punch and filed a preemptive lawsuit in federal court on Thursday, November 21, 2013.  So why are so many current creators rushing to the courtroom on their own volition?

Under the Declaratory Judgment Act, either party in a dispute may approach a federal court when a “case of actual controversy” presents itself.  At its discretion, the court can “declare” the rights of the parties and award injunctive relief or damages where appropriate.

Parties threatened with liability can use the Declaratory Judgment Act to turn the shield of a legal defense into a sword, initiating lawsuits themselves to assert the legality of their actions.  Like Google, who came out on top this month in a Federal case in New York City involving its database of scanned books, GoldieBlox argues that their video is protected by the fair use doctrine.

GoldieBlox has drawn first blood, presenting the video as a parody and criticism.  The company distinguishes its “lyrics celebrating the many capabilities of girls” from the original song, where “girls are limited (at best) to household chores.”

Can GoldieBlox rest “as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce” like the DJ dismissed earlier this month from an unrelated Beastie Boys copyright infringement case, or will the toy maker’s strategy leave it fighting for its right to copy?

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