I really liked the Goldieblox advert when I saw it, the attitude, the aim of getting more girls into STEM. I didn’t even think about the backing music much apart from thinking it was a slightly odd but subversive choice as a fun parody of Beastie Boys very misogynistic and not-at-all kid-friendly ‘Girls’.
It seems that Universal and Beasties approached Goldieblox, apparently threateningly although how much remains to be seen (Beasties claim it just was a nice cuddly approach, those of us who have been ‘approached’ before suspect that is complete bullshit) and Goldieblox pre-emptively sued.
There’s a lot of hot air on the internets about this, a lot which doesn’t seem to understand how fair use or parody works. No, MCA’s will does not somehow rewrite US law. No, fair use doesn’t have a ‘not for sale’ tag on it. Protected speech is protected speech, wherever it may appear…the contested bit is usually if or how it could cause commercial damage to the original.
So it was nice to be backed up by the EFF in thinking that this case is highly ironic and problematic for the Beasties. As many mashup artists since, they have used or tried to use fair use laws from the other side of the mirror from where they are now, to defend their sampling and commercial appropriation of other people’s creative work as transformative and ‘fair use’.
I think Goldieblox has a real case here, the usage fulfils what I understand as parody and social comment, flipping the misogyny of the original and making it into a positive anthem for young girls. Just because it’s in an advert does not automatically mean that speech is invalidated as not protected under the laws over fair use….nor does Adam Yauch’s will mean that beyond the grave he can send Goldieblox back to the workbench over this. The U.S. court system is full of surprises so who knows how this will play out, but having followed this sort of thing for many moons from a mashup/cultural appropriation angle, I think they have a very good case. I hope the eventual decision doesn’t damage fair use laws in the States though (I know it can’t til it gets to the highest court, but depends how silly UMG & Beasties want to be – although I suspect they wouldn’t dare. The big 4 have been avoiding court cases about these kind of uses for a very good reason – it could go the wrong way, legitimising a shedload of ‘grey area’ uses which they’d prefer weren’t legal).
I’m not going into a long rant as I did on Facebook about the complex relationship I have with the Beasties, let’s just say their past speech, and their very belated apologies for homophobia and misogyny leaves a lot to be desired. I never really understood why they got a free pass, actually…strange the defence of ‘immaturity’ when I knew not to be sexist, homophobic or plain rude as a twenty year old, and many other similarly aged people that were in the spotlight and outside manage it too. In fact if you’re not straight and white you aren’t actually allowed to step that far out of line as being allowed the space to act up, be obnoxious and being a brat is usually a male white middle class privilege. They aren’t the heroes you are looking for, over copyright, politics or otherwise. I always thought Run DMC and Public Enemy were better anyway!