GoldieBlox could pay $1M to license Beastie Boys song. Is that fair?

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.


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