OAKLAND -- The legal battle GoldieBlox thought it had laid to rest escalated this week when the Beastie Boys sued the Oakland toy company over a copyright dispute after it used the group's song in a video advertisement.
In court documents filed Tuesday at the U.S. District Court in Oakland, the Beastie Boys alleged GoldieBlox committed copyright and trademark infringement when it posted a video on YouTube that featured the group's hit song "Girls" set to alternative lyrics that, unlike the original message of the song, promote girls as intelligent and capable.
The Beastie Boys, a hip-hop group that formed in the 1980s, say in court documents that GoldieBlox used the song with the modified words as an advertising jingle "with the goal of selling the company's toys" and that the video's release last month "coincided with a massive increase in the sales of GoldieBlox's products."
GoldieBlox, created last year by Stanford University graduate Debbie Sterling, includes a construction toy set and storybook starring the tool-wielding female character Goldie, who invents contraptions and tackles engineering challenges. The video that features the Beastie Boys' song follows three bored girls who ditch a TV show about princesses 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."
The video vanished from YouTube after initial complaints from the Beastie Boys, and GoldieBlox replaced it with the same advertisement set to a different song. Sterling explained in a blog post that she hadn't known that the late Adam Yauch, one of the groups' founding members, had requested Beastie Boys' songs never be used in advertising.
Daralyn Durie, a lawyer representing GoldieBlox, said on Wednesday that "although the video has been taken down and we would prefer an amicable resolution, we strongly believe that the parody constitutes fair use."
But the Beastie Boys also say that GoldieBlox has a pattern of illegally using songs in advertising campaigns. The group alleges in court documents that GoldieBlox has "engaged in the systematic infringement of intellectual property from numerous popular groups," including the rock band Queen and French electronic group Daft Punk.
GoldieBlox was actually the first to sue, filing in November a declaration of judgment against the Beastie Boys that defended the song as a parody and was therefore fair for them to use. Several attorneys have said that the hip-hop group doesn't have a strong case because GoldieBlox's advertisement is a criticism of the song's message, which is allowed under copyright law. Other legal experts, however, question whether using the song to sell products should be allowed.
"GoldieBlox probably doesn't have the right to use the song," said Jonathan Moskin, a New York-based attorney and intellectual property expert. "They may be commenting on the misogynistic lyrics of the Beastie Boys, but in doing that, clearly their motive is to sell their own toys."
Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.