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Summary:

A closely watched parody case turns out to have resulted in a potential $1 million payout — but, as with everything else in the case, there’s more than meets the eye.

Beastie Boys
photo: Beastie Boys

Music fans may recall a brouhaha that erupted last fall between rap group the Beastie Boys and GoldieBlox, a girl-power toy maker, after the latter rewrote the band’s frat-boy anthem “Girls” for an empowering YouTube video watched by millions.

When the Beastie Boys complained about the unauthorized use of their song, GoldieBlox sued for a declaration that its video was fair use — touching off a debate over whether the rap group was a bully or whether, instead, the toy maker was a commercial opportunist.

Unfortunately for copyright nerds, the case never went before a judge, meaning the fair use case was never decided. Instead, the two sides reached a settlement in March under which GoldieBox agreed to apologize and pay an undisclosed amount to a charity promoting science and engineering for girls.

Now, we know a little more thanks to a court filing from an unrelated Beastie Boys case. The filing, spotted by Eriq Gardner, notes that the Beastie Boys granted GoldieBlox a retroactive license that requires the toy maker to pay 1 percent of its revenue to charity until the payout amounts reach $1 million.

The $1 million figure seems steep. Even though million viewed the GoldieBlox video, the company had to remove the video after 10 days and it remains unavailable on YouTube — meaning the license worked out to $100,000 a day. Meanwhile, GoldieBlox’s original fair use argument, based on parody, had at least a different chance of holding up in court. So is this a case of a rich music group brow-beating a little company into submission?

Not really. Recall that GoldieBlox appears to have acted cynically from the get-go, exploiting the controversy for maximum marketing effect. And while $1 million sounds like a lot for a small company, the fact that the payouts are tied to its revenue mean that GoldieBlox will only pay that amount if it sells $100 million worth of its toys in the coming — which may never happen at all.

Finally, for companies as diverse as Tom’s shoes to Reddit, charity donations are becoming just a standard part of business operations. For GoldieBlox, the 1 percent payout will amounts to little more than a marketing offense.

 

  1. It doesn’t matter if it seems fair to you or to anyone else, with one exception: Beastie Boys and GoldieBlox. It’s the agreement they reached, so it’s fair to them, and that’s all that matters.

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  2. I would say that this is less a licensing fee, whatever it’s called, and more a damage settlement. The Beastie Boys have taken a very public and oft repeated stance that they do not and will not license their music to advertisers. It could be argued that GoldieBlox’s commercial “parody” was libelous, leading the public to believe that the Beasties had “sold out.”

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