OAKLAND -- Less than a year after Debbie Sterling moved into a cramped Oakland office to launch the construction-themed doll set GoldieBlox and shake up the old-school toy industry, she has managed to shake up the old-school hip hop music industry.
Sterling is in a legal battle with Beastie Boys, the hip hop band that formed in the 1980s, after producing a video spoof of the Beastie Boys' hit song "Girls" with an advertisement of three girls playing with a Rube Goldberg contraption while singing alternative lyrics about girl power. The video hit more than 8 million views by Monday, a week after it was posted, creating a firestorm of debate over intellectual property rights.
GoldieBlox on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Beastie Boys -- before the band publicly responded to the video -- to deflect "threats" from the Beastie Boys of copyright infringement, the lawsuit says. Because the video is a parody, GoldieBlox says, its use of the song is fair.
"GoldieBlox created its parody video specifically to comment on the Beastie Boys song, and to further the company's goal to break down gender stereotypes and to encourage young girls to engage in activities that challenge their intellect, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math," according to the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
The video, and ad for GoldieBlox, features three bored girls watching princesses in pink on TV. They proceed to grab a tool kit, goggles and hard hats and set to work building a machine as they sing: "Girls to build a spaceship\ Girls to code the new app\ Girls to grow up knowing\ That they can engineer that."
Sterling, a Stanford University graduate, says she created the toy to teach young girls basic engineering skills and inspire more women to pursue jobs in the male-dominated industry. GoldieBlox includes a construction toy set and storybook starring the tool-wielding character Goldie, who invents contraptions and tackles engineering challenges. The original Beastie Boys lyrics are: "Girls to do the dishes\ Girls to clean up my room\ Girls to do the laundry\ Girls and in the bathroom." The song, off the band's 1986 album "Licensed to Ill," became a quick hit among adolescent-age boys.
The Beastie Boys responded on Monday with an open letter that said the band members "strongly support empowering young girls" but that GoldieBlox's "video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads.
"When we tried to simply ask how and why our song "Girls" had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US," the letter said.
GoldieBlox declined to answer questions on Monday.
Sterling is no stranger to viral videos. Her fundraising video on Kickstarter to launch GoldieBlox exploded on social media, and an influx of 22,000 pre-orders allowed her to start production on the new toy in the spring.
Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.