When two idealistic interests clash — artists’ wishing to protect their creations from commercial exploitation vs. advocates desiring to increase the now fractional representation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields — where does the law come down? To those concerned about music and copyright, a recent case calls into question the bounds of owners’ rights.
It’s all about a recent legal scuffle between the Beastie Boys and toy company GoldieBlox over a parody of the lads’ hit Girls in a television commercial. It has created quite the buzz within the blogosphere, because the toy company promotes products that bust sexist stereotypes to encourage girls to consider interests in STEM endeavors. But late last month, the Beastie Boys shared an open letter with the New York Times asserting that they would not allow their music to be used in product advertisements.
Based on their statements, the hip-hop group may be a bit off-beat to the tune of copyright control and ownership. Sure, copyright holders generally have exclusive rights to control the use of their work – but that list is short. Copyright owners can often be restricted by several limitations – the fair use doctrine, the substantial similarity test, the de minimis doctrine, and whether the work in question is actually an original work of authorship, just to name a few.
GoldieBlox would seem to hold a decent fair use defense. Their commercial’s use of the Beastie Boy parody arguably could be transformative enough to constitute fair use. The courts won’t rule on this issue, as the toy company has taken down the music in its ad and replaced it with generic, happy sounds. It issued an apology to the musical trio and expressed a willingness to put a stop to their court action seeking a declaratory judgment.
While the Boys have put out statements indicating their appreciation for the toymakers’ aims, they’re sticking to their guns about protecting their, um, art. Which in strictly public relations terms might not be so swift, since the band’s genre — hip-hop — always battles the stench of sexism and homophobia and the Girls lyrics are less than model views of modern women’s role in life and society — yes, all you women Entertainment Law JDs aspire to clean up the Beastie Boys’ dishes, laundry and bathrooms.
And at a time when no less than the White House is pressing to ensure greater equity for the genders in the STEM fields — where women represent a mere 24 percent of these professionals but earn 33 percent more than those outside these areas — the toy commercial in question, see it here, could provide more progressive and less beastly boys a chance to stand up and be real men on an important topic of the times.