They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But in the realm of ideas, “imitation” can cross over into something “indictable”, fairly quickly. Particularly when the object of your imitation is unaware of your intentions, or actions. Such was the case, and the lesson learned by toy company, GoldieBlox.
The company produces a product that, it says, is empowering to girls, teaching them that they can crossover typical cultural gender roles, and be who they want to be.
To power their Girl Power campaign, GoldieBlox chose one of the catchiest songs of recent decades that seems to present an opposite viewpoint. At least that’s what the folks at GoldieBlox thought. They grabbed the Beastie Boys megahit “Girls,” changed the lyrics, and used the new song as the back track to their web-based commercials.
Their rationale for the admitted “borrowing” of the Beastie’s intellectual property? The song was misogynistic, so we re-messaged it. Yeah, about that…
Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, says GoldieBlox transgressed two sacred public relations, and intellectual property commandments in doing so.
First, they used someone else’s intellectual property without express permission. Not only is this highly illegal, it is immoral to use someone else’s property to sell your product without giving them credit, and the right of refusal. GoldieBlox tried to squirm out of the first issue by claiming “parody”, and the second by saying the song was immoral as released, so they improved it.
Unfortunately, for GoldieBlox, the legal argument might work if they were actually creating a parody (and obtaining contractual permission). However, they were creating a commercial, not a parody.
GoldieBlox’s second argument leads to what Torossian says is the worst of the company’s transgressions. They did not understand what they were mocking. While, on the surface, the song is certainly not an ode to equal treatment of women, the Beasties have a long history of explaining the song, and it’s intent. They also have an established history of treating women with profound respect in, and out, of their music. While there may be a few rap acts out there who GoldieBlox could have accused of misogyny, this is not one of them.
Further, and this is where Torossian says the company really crossed the line, the Beastie Boys made a conscious decision LONG ago not to allow any of their music to be used for separate commercial purposes. So, on that premise, the band’s reps contacted GoldieBlox essentially saying: “What’s up with this???”
GoldieBlox responded by … wait for it … SUEING THE BAND!
Yep, the company that stole the intellectual property, used it without permission, and then tried to hide behind the thinnest of justifications, actually SUED they brand they stole from.
Now it’s all part of the public record … not to mention a VERY public PR catastrophe GoldieBlox dropped on itself.
Ronn is the CEO of 5WPR and author of best selling PR book, For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations, and a regular contributor to Fox News, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Insights Wired, Everything-PR and more.