The Beastie Boys recently won a $1.7 million lawsuit against Monster Energy drinks for the company’s 2012 use of a mash-up consisting of five Beastie Boys songs. DJ Z-Trip gave Monster permission to use his mix, which contained the copyrighted songs. Although there have been many music infringement cases that specify how many bars can be “borrowed” legally (which really is not accurate, and the higher the similarity, the more likely an infringement will be found), this litigation boils down to a key fact: DJ Z-Trip had no authority to sell a mix of copyrighted material without consulting the band for permission to use their music further.
Beside infringing on the Boys’ music, the energy drinks’ music video at the end projected an image that said “RIP MCA,” looking very similar to Monster’s logo, which the band felt qualified as an endorsement by the late artist. But Adam “MCA” Yauch in his will specified that his name could not be used for promotional purposes. His following was great and his legacy was cherished by many. Two members of the band, Adam “Ad Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond filed suit for $1 million each in damages as well as $1 million for the purported endorsement.
Monster maintained it made an innocent error and thought it had the right to use the music in its video. After the suit progressed, opposing counsel stated that $125,000 was more appropriate for prospective damages, but the court disagreed. Jurors ruled in favor of the Beastie Boys and they were granted $1.7 million. The NY Daily News concluded by stating, “The jury found that Monster’s misuse of the Beastie’s music was ‘willful’ and done in ‘bad faith,’ and awarded the band $1.2 million for the unauthorized use of the songs and $500,000 for the false endorsement.”
The drink company, by the way, earlier had tried to blame DJ Z-Trip and unsuccessfully sued him because Monster asserted his reply to an email — the one word “dope” — had seemed to them to be authorization to use the Beastie Boys’ tunes.
The musicians have made clear that they will wrangle with others, no matter the other parties’ stated intent, to protect their intellectual property. The Beasties, for example, took something of a black eye when they sued GoldieBlox, a toy maker that parodied in their commercial the band’s hit Girls. GoldieBlox had mustered support, especially in cyberspace, for its claim of fair use in connection with its efforts to get more girls to use its toys and to consider careers in male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The dispute was resolved with an apology by GoldieBlox, which also agreed to donate to a charity of the Boys’ choice that also promotes women’s participation in STEM careers.
In the Monster case, the filings make clear that money may not have been at the root of this suit so much as surviving band members’ wish to preserve MCA’s legacy. The band members sued on behalf of a creative partner who didn’t have a voice anymore to ensure his life and works were not taken advantage of, and to send a message that they will go after anyone who attempts to do so.