But Time gets credit for the worst performance of all. It headlined a piece “Beastie Boys Sue Little Girls,” which is a trifecta of bad journalism: dumb, inflammatory, and false. The mag disappeared its boo-boo, though. The story’s headline now reads “Toy Company Files Suit After Beastie Boys Threaten Action Over ‘Girls’ Video” and there’s no indication of its earlier whopper.

Felix, our co-editor on The Audit’s Best Business Writing series, writes this:

… in the key precedent for such issues, Campbell vs Acuff-Rose Music, Justice Souter explicitly said that “the use of a copyrighted work to advertise a product, even in a parody, will be entitled to less indulgence” under the law than “the sale of a parody for its own sake”.

This is a distinction the Beasties intuitively understand. After all, this version of Girls has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube, without so much as a peep from the Beasties. And if you simply lop off the last few seconds of the GoldieBlox version — the bit where they shoehorn in the GoldieBlox branding — then that, too, would surely have been fine. If all GoldieBlox wanted to do was get out a viral message about empowering girls, they could easily have done that without gratuitously antagonizing the Beastie Boys, or putting the Beasties in their current impossible situation.

Instead, however, GoldieBlox did exactly what you’d expect an entitled and well-lawyered Silicon Valley startup to do, which is pick a fight. It’s the way of the Valley — you can’t be winning unless some household-name dinosaur is losing.

Again, GoldieBlox took a Beasties song, repackaged it, used it to sell toys, and when asked by the band why they did it, sued them. Egregious.

GoldieBlox deserves the PR disaster, not the Beastie Boys.


Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.