Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No sleep 'til Sunnyvale! Is the Goldieblox-Beastie Boys thingie a Valley plot?

No, I'm not talking about Silicon Valley homeless people sleeping on transit buses. I'm talking about a copyright infringement issue that I just wrote about in a post in my Empoprise-MU music blog. In brief, my Empoprise-MU post concerns competing definitions of "fair use" as they related to Goldieblox's adaptation of the Beastie Boys song "Girls." For more context, see my post.

At the end of the post, I said the following (links at the original post):

For more information, see the Beastie Boys message board thread on this topic. The "boys" are so old, the URL includes "bbs." For a slightly more modern presentation, see Goldieblox's Facebook page.

Let's face it, the Beastie Boys have been around for decades, and they probably originally operated a BBS in their initial heyday. Meanwhile, your average Goldieblox employee is probably complaining that Facebook is so retro, and why isn't Goldieblox on Snapchat already?

But perhaps the differences between Goldieblox and the Beastie Boys go much deeper.

Cara Evangelista has shared something written by Felix Salmon saying that Goldieblox's attitude toward the Beastie Boys, Toys R Us, and others is symptomatic of Silicon Valley's attitude toward outsiders. GoldieBlox, fair use, and the cult of disruption alleges that "disruption" is a key part of the marketing strategy of Goldieblox.

Given the speed with which the GoldieBlox complaint appeared, indeed, it’s reasonable to assume that they had it in their back pocket all along, ready to whip out the minute anybody from the Beastie Boys, or their record label, so much as inquired about what was going on. The strategy here is to maximize ill-will: don’t ask permission, make no attempt to negotiate in good faith, antagonize the other party as much as possible.

Salmon makes another point - one that Dan Sanderson has also made. Part of the argument in favor of Goldieblox in this "fair use" battle is that Goldieblox performed "transformative" actions in converting a sexist jingle into something that empowers women. But is the original version of "Girls" truly sexist? As Sanderson puts it:

Nobody seems to be willing to suggest that the BB lyrics are satirical, and are thus thematically aligned with the GB lyrics.

If that is the case, of course, there's no transformative act going on at all.

Here are my current thoughts on these matters, subject to Jim Bakker "I was wrong" change.

First, beginning with the original "Girls" song. Whatever the Beastie Boys' intent in writing the lyrics, I recall that reasonable members of the general public took those lyrics at face value. This was not a Randy Newman/Steve Taylor thing, where the songwriter's original intent was made clear in the middle of the song ("Short People" or "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good"). Everything about the Beastie Boys during their initial heyday indicated that these guys truly were loudmouthed jerks who would believe these things about girls. These guys, for example, wouldn't be hanging out with the Dalai Lama - that came later.

Second, regarding this whole "the Valley runs roughshod over the unwashed" argument. As you know, I am not necessarily a fan of some of the Valley attitudes, but even if Goldieblox planned this whole thing to snatch some free publicity, these tactics are not unique to the Valley. The Beastie Boys, for example, have themselves done some attention-grabbing here and there. And the whole history of "fair use" battles includes big players against big players, small players against big players, big players against small players, and the like.

Third, what about the merits of the two parties in this particular case? Again, I speak as a layperson, but I think that Goldieblox has a stronger case. Yes, Goldieblox used a substantial part of the song, and yes it was used for a commercial purpose, but I believe that Goldieblox's use of the song was a transformative commentary on the original song (see my first item above), and (despite what I said in my music blog post) I'd be willing to bet that sales of the Beastie Boys song "Girls" have substantially INCREASED over the last few days.

However, the final determination may be made by a court - or by an appeals court - unless there is an out-of-court settlement.
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