Jockin’ Fair Use To Their Dismay
On the one hand, “Girls” is probably the stupidest song in the Beastie Boys’ storied catalog (in both concept and execution) and if reality could be bent in certain ways I’m sure even the band themselves would at least consider replacing the original Licensed to Ill version with a kinder, less chauvinistic rewrite. On the other hand, if toy company GoldieBlox did indeed violate the basic rules of fair use with their (admittedly clever) parody and the surviving Beasties just look the other way, that welcomes anyone to manipulate the group’s existing works on the precedent, “Well, those people didn’t get in trouble, why should we?”
Thus, I understand why Ad-Rock and Mike D (pictured, L-R) are now full-on suing GoldieBlox. It’s as much about preventing future headaches as it is about enforcing whatever legal doctrine may have been violated. And who knows how this plays into the stipulation deceased Beastie Adam Yauch placed in his will forbidding advertisers from using his likeness or image. GoldieBlox may have the best intentions about shaping young minds, but they’re still trying to sell something by piggybacking on a more successful and recognizable entity that does not necessarily want to be piggybacked upon.
Of course, the Beastie Boys did some blatant mainstream piggybacking of their own when they started, sampling no less than Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin on their 1986 debut, the aforementioned multiplatinum Ill, but the difference is the BBs were refolding art into other art. They did not rewrite “Sweet Leaf” to sell a toy—they just rapped over part of it. I also assume the Beasties obtained whatever legal permission they had to to use those samples, considering the fact their first single, 1985’s “Rock Hard,” was pulled after AC/DC objected to their anthem “Back in Black” being used as that song’s skeleton (“Rock Hard” remains unreleased despite the fact the Beastie Boys have become the AC/DC of hip hop, by which I mean classic rock radio stations now play “Fight For Your Right” at 5 PM on Fridays).
Disclaimer: I am not any kind of authority on Beastie Boys history. Maybe they didn’t clear any of that shit on Licensed to Ill and AC/DC were the only rockers paying any attention to the “new-fangled” hip hop thing. All I know for sure is fair use laws were very different in the ’80s (read: it was much easier to get away with reworking other people’s songs) and that “Girls,” which also appears on Licensed to Ill, samples nothing. It is two minutes of xylophone-based frat boyishness born entirely from the Boys of Beast. So they have the right to complain about people messing with it (even if said people are improving it by leaps and bounds).
Still, as a fan, I wish Ad-Rock, Mike D, and the estate of MCA could settle this fussin’ and a-feudin’ with a water balloon fight or a round of “Star Trek” trivia. What a shame this massive fortune-generating commercial entity has to act like a massive fortune-generating commercial entity. Let that be a lesson to anyone wishing their crude, underwritten anthem sell a trillion units. Do you really want to open yourself up to the possibility of one day going to court over a song that includes the phrase “new wave hairdos?”