GoldieBlox vs. the Beasties

It is everywhere, the captivating “GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg, & Beastie Boys “Princess Machine” showing the little girls conquering the engineering world.  Should it be?

My engineering father would be thrilled to see girls encouraged to create. I think he was always a bit disappointed that not only did none of his three sons go into engineering, none of his three daughters did either.  We were all encouraged to build and create at will.  He would be proud that not only his daughters, but granddaughters and great-granddaughters are all as capable as their male counterparts.

But that is not the issue here.  Encouraging girls is great, but the issue is copyright infringement.  And the issue isn’t just copyright infringement, but the filing of a lawsuit to defend use of someone else’s material before they have made any public statements about the use of their copyrighted material.

GoldieBlox’s creator Debbie Sterling stated she filed the lawsuit to deflect threats of copyright infringement before the Beastie Boy’s could go public about the use of their song “Girls” in the video.  She states that the song is a parody and therefore allowed under the “Fair Use” provision of the copyright law.

“GoldieBlox created its parody video specifically to comment on the Beastie Boys song, and to further the company’s goal to break down gender stereotypes and to encourage young girls to engage in activities that challenge their intellect, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.”

Not to sell their toys?

The Beastie Boys on the other hand had privately communicated with the company asking about the use of their song.  They let Ms. Sterling know that they do not now and never have allowed use of their works in commercials.    In an open letter on 25 Nov, the Beastie Boys stated that they…….

 “strongly support empowering young girls” .  They go on to say that GoldieBlox’s “video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads.”  They add that….. “When we tried to simply ask how and why our song “Girls” had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US.”

So the question goes back to is this a parody acceptable under “Fair Use” or a copyright infringement?  Cast your vote here.

While I usually try not to take sides, I find the filing of a lawsuit by the infringing side a push to the side of the copyright holder.   I’d hate for the world to lose this very fun video though, so I thought a fitting end might be that the company would have to remove all information identifying their company, AND post online a “How To” for those looking to reenact the great engineering feats shown in the video, again without any company identifying information.  That would be “empowering girls.”



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Authors Guild Inc., et al. v. Google Inc.

12-3200-cv   UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT August Term, 2012 ( Argued On: May 8, 2013 Decided: July 1, 2013)

In a decision announced today,  the Second Circuit decertified a class action suit brought by the Authors Guild, Inc. and told Judge Denny Chin to rule first on whether Google’s book scanning is fair use.

This is a victory for Google.  The company has argued that the scanning of books has not hurt authors, but rather made long forgotten books available to a wider audience.  They also claimed that allowing the suit to go forth as a class action forces authors who are happy about the scanning to join forces with those who are not.

This unanimous decision decertified the class action without prejudice.  If Judge Chin decides that the scanning is not a Fair Use, then the class action suit could be reinstated.  Complicating the issue is the fact that Judge Chin is now a member of the Second Circuit. You can read the entire court decision here.  Docket No. 12-3200-cv 

A parallel case brought against the Hathi Trust is also being heard by the Second Circuit.  In that case the Authors Guild is appealing a lower court decision in which Judge Harold Baer ruled that the scanning of over 10 million books was FAIR USE.  He stated “I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by defendants’ [mass digitization project] and would require that I terminate this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts that at the same time effectuates the ideals espoused by the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act],”  Inside Higher Ed   Read more here.

Genealogists have a lot at stake with these decisions.  Many “genealogies” are caught in the limbo of copyright with no likelihood of republication.  A workable solution with Google or the University of Michigan’s Hathi Trust could make digital copies available quickly at a reasonable cost.

To access digitized books see  Hathi Trust   and  GoogleBooks

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A Copyright Bookshelf

Are you looking for a good book on copyright law?  I’ve set up a bookshelf on WorldCat with some of the newer books (post 2000) plus a few historic books for comparison of then and now.    Did I miss anything important?  Send a link to and I’ll add it, if it is listed on WorldCat.

Copyright Bookshelf

I’ve also started a Library Shelf of free e-books discussing copyright on Google Books.  These books mainly date before 1900, thus giving an interesting perspective, very removed from the philosophy of many today.

Copyright – Free E-Books

Let me know if you’ve found an interesting tome that is missing from these lists, or if you have found another listing of copyright books that we could share a link to.

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Filed under Copyright, Genealogy, Laws and Legal Decisions