California judge to decide whether Goldieblox parody is fair use

When you own a copyright, you have exclusive control over an original creation. If you so choose, you may copy the work and sell it. Music rights allow you to perform the work for a Los Angeles audience and make derivatives, or new versions, inspired by the original piece.

Inspiration is not limited to copyright owners. Other musicians may feel compelled to create and express something new and different with elements of your work. Whether or not that constitutes copyright infringement depends on whether the derivative passes muster under fair use.

A California federal court has been asked by a toymaker to define the litigants’ boundaries in a dispute over the use of a Beastie Boys song in the manufacturer’s advertising. The widely-seen Goldieblox “Princess Machine” ad features a parody of the song “Girls,” complete with revised lyrics that promote science and engineering interests and goals for girls.

Goldieblox asked a judge to declare an opinion about the case, which includes an outline of the litigants’ rights in the dispute, minus enforcement. The toy company stated the Beastie Boys have threatened to bring a copyright lawsuit against the start-up. The judge could state the song parody is not a copyright law violation under rules of fair use.

Courts have permitted parody songs, which use copyrighted material to make a comment on or lampoon an original work, to be created and used without the copyright owner’s permission. The Beastie Boys are arguing that Goldieblox video is in violation because it parodies “Girls” to make money. More than seven million people have seen the video.

An intellectual property attorney might suggest that a company, especially one without a big legal budget, tread carefully before testing the limits of fair use. Copyright laws like the music, artwork and writing they protect can be ambiguous. In an intellectual property dispute, that means the court’s favor may fall either way.

Source: hollywoodreporter.com, “Beastie Boys, ‘Girls’ Viral Video in Copyright Infringement Fight” Eriq Gardner, Nov. 22, 2013