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Summary:

Toy maker GoldieBlox is using mass media to empower little girls to pursue science and engineering. But what about the artists whose songs the company is using to spread its message?

GoldieBlox
photo: GoldieBlox

GoldieBlox was at it again last night with a Super Bowl commercial using a popular song to promote its engineering toys for girls. Depending on your view, the company is either a brave feminist upstart or a cynical opportunist that steals from artists to make a quick buck. Or maybe it’s both.

In case you’re unfamiliar, GoldieBlox caused a stir in November after it racked up millions of YouTube views with a clever commercial that rewrote the Beastie Boys’ boorish anthem “Girls” into a message of empowerment with new lyrics like “Girls, to code a new app/To grow up knowing that they can engineer that.”

The company never got a license to use the song, and when the Beastie Boys asked about the video, GoldieBlox sued the band the next day, declaring it had a fair-use right to the song. The two sides are still locked in a court fight.

GoldieBlox got oodles more publicity on Super Bowl Sunday by blaring head-banger favorite “Cum on Feel the Noize,” — once again with new lyrics and images of little girls eschewing pink plastic in favor of engineering endeavors. (The toy maker was able to land an ad spot in the big game because it won a small business contest sponsored by Intuit.)

It’s unclear whether GoldieBlox paid for a license this time around or whether, as with the Beastie Boys ad, it’s claiming a right to use the song as a parody. (Update: a spokesperson stated by email that Intuit bought a license to use the music)

Whatever the answer, GoldieBlox is poised to come out a winner. Despite some crummy reviews for its toys, the Super Bowl ad means it gets another wave of massive publicity, all the while appearing to be a plucky small business. Last time around, the legal controversy took place right before the Black Friday shopping frenzy — which may or may not have been a coincidence.

For fans and feminists alike, the GoldieBlox case is a tough one. The company has a history of helping itself to popular songs, including those by Daft Punk and Queen, to juice its marketing efforts under the cover of parody and progress. But it’s also delivering a powerful message in a tech and engineering culture still rife with sexism.

Meanwhile, it’s a good bet that glam bands Slade and Quiet Riot are enjoying more downloads  for “Cum On Feel the Noize” right now than they have in many years. Finally, here’s a Twitter debate from last night, a guide to fair use — and more from YouTube:

  1. The next to the last paragraph of the article seems to suggest that perhaps any infringement GoldieBlox has perpetrated should be overlooked in the name of social progress. Is that the meaning you were trying to convey?

    1. Thanks for the comment, synthdude. I’m not taking a position one way or the other — just pointing out that there are strong arguments in favor of both sides (ie infringement or fair use).

      1. The clarification is appreciated, but isn’t to say that there are “strong arguments” on both sides taking a position? It implies consideration and evaluation of the arguments. What do you consider to be the strongest argument in support of GoldieBlox’s position? I struggle to find any justification for their actions that passes the laugh test, either legally or morally.

        1. I’m really doing my best not to weigh in either way but, if you wanted to make the case for GoldieBlox, you could point out that the ads are transformative and don’t have a significant impact on the value of the underlying work (per 1st and 4th parts of the 4-part Fair Use test). This argument is stronger for the first video than the Super Bowl commercial of course..

          1. Fair enough, though methinks allowing this type of blatantly commercial, nonartistic use would set us on a very slippery slope, especially given the ease of publication that technology provides. Thanks for engaging!

            1. Yup. It would allow people to reuse any song by changing it just a bit. It’s a bad precedent to allow commercial games like this without sharing with the original artist.

  2. When you wrote that Beastie Boys’ anthem was “boarish” I think the word you were looking for was “boorish” (meaning rough, bad-mannered, coarse).

    1. Jeff John Roberts Stuart Monday, February 3, 2014

      you’re right Stuart! thanks for flagging.. we’ve fixed

  3. Typical artist haters. Why should a kid use Goldie Blox if some corporation is just going to take whatever they create and claim “fair use”? Goldie BLox are just encouraging kids to take up a career that’s worthless.

  4. Until the GoldieBlox suit is settled, it was irresponsible of Intuit to reward them with this type of coverage and there is zero evidence that Intuit received a licensed from the Beastie Boys, since they are against all commercial use. As to whether this use is transformative, that is for a court to decide, there are strong arguments it is not. GoldieBlox has done this before with other artists (allegedly). They have no respect for the law!

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