Are the Beastie Boys Being Sued or Are the Beastie Boys Doing the Suing?

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GoldieBlox, a toy start-up that aims to get girls interested in engineering, has come under attack for repurposing the Beastie Boys' unmistakable "Girls" in an ad that's gone viral. But the group's precise involvement in the feud has gotten a bit mangled.

Weekend reports suggested that lawyers for the surviving rappers—Ad-Rock and Mike D—had filed a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement, saying that "unauthorized use of the Beastie Boys intellectual property is a 'big problem' that has a 'very significant impact.'" Now, in an open letter, the group writes that they are the ones being sued after questioning the use of "Girls" in what is unambiguously a commercial clip:

As creative as it is, make no mistake, your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads.

When we tried to simply ask how and why our song “Girls” had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US.

It's not the first time the Beasties have objected to commercial use of their music; last year the group came after Monster Energy Drink for copyright infringement. As has been widely noted, the late Adam Yauch went so far in his will as to ban the use of all Beastie Boys songs in advertisements, so this sort of objection might well be seen as honoring his wishes.

But notably, the members also go out of their way to praise the message of the GoldieBlox commercial:

We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.

That could be genuine politeness. More likely, it's a tacit acknowledgment that the Beasties' original "Girls" contains pretty blatantly misogynistic overtones, a product of the group's crass and fratty early years, before they scored critical favor with 1989's Paul's Boutique. The subsequent decade found the Beasties promoting feminism and apologizing for earlier instances of homophobia

GoldieBlox, meanwhile, argues that their version is fair use and has been recognized as "a parody and criticism of the original song." Here's the clip:

And here, for comparison, is the original "Girls":

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.