The Beastie Boys started their trial against Monster Energy Co. by telling a federal court jury in New York that Monster owes the hip-hop group millions of dollars for copyright infringement and creating a false endorsement of Monster energy drinks.
Five Beastie Boys tracks were used, without authorization, in a four-minute marketing video related to a snowboarding event sponsored by Monster.
The video was posted on Monster’s YouTube channel, Facebook page, and company website for five weeks. The company has 16 million Facebook fans, but fewer than 14,000 apparently watched the video.
Monster agreed that it had infringed the group’s copyrights but could not agree on what a reasonable after-the-fact royalty rate would be.
The Beastie Boys, in their 30-year history, have never allowed their name, image, or music to be used in an advertising campaign.
In his opening statement in the Monster case, the group’s attorney said:
[Monster] stole the music, it stole the name, it stole the endorsement, it stole the legacy. It stole the Beastie Boys’ right to say no.
He said that expert witness testimony would show that the band’s songs and endorsement were worth $2.5 million.
He also said that Monster should pay the maximum penalty of $150,000 for infringement of the group’s copyrights.
Monster’s own expert claims that the copyright licensing fees should be only $90,000 to $120,000 and that the value of the group’s endorsement is “negligible.”
Monster claims that its copyright infringement was due to an “honest” miscommunication within its marketing team. Apparently the company had almost no process for “clearing” the rights to music used in its marketing videos.
The music for the video was provided by the DJ for the snowboarding event, who had played many Beastie Boys songs during the competition due to the then-recent death of band founder Adam Yauch.
Monster tried to blame the DJ for its mistake in failing to get a license for the music, and sued him for breach of contract and fraud. That case was dismissed when a judge found the DJ never represented he had the authority to license the group’s music.
Last year, the group was briefly engaged in a legal dispute with a company that makes toys that encourage girls to become engineers. GoldieBlox used a parody of a Beastie Boys song in its ads.
The video of the parody version of the Beastie Boys song “Girls” went viral and gained over seven million views.
After the Beastie Boys threatened to sue for copyright infringement, GoldieBlox filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that its parody was a “fair use” of the song.
Shortly thereafter, however, the company founders dropped the suit, stopped using the song, and posted an open letter to Beastie Boys Mike Diamond and Adam Horwitz, referencing the will of Yauch, who died in 2012 at the age of 47.
The letter said:
We don’t want to fight with you. We love you and we are actually huge fans….
We want you to know that when we posted the video, we were completely unaware that the late, great Adam Yauch had requested in his will that the Beastie Boys songs never be used in advertising. Although we believe our parody video falls under fair use, we would like to respect his wishes and yours.
The original version of the 1987 Beastie Boys song has lyrics like, “Girls — to do the dishes. Girls — to clean up my room/ Girls — to do the laundry/ Girls — and in the bathroom/.”
The new version has more empowering lyrics about girls who want to “build a spaceship” and “code a new app.”
If you have questions about using third-party music or images in your marketing materials, contact our office to arrange a free initial consultation with one of our copyright lawyers.
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Photo Attribution: “Beastie Boys at SXSW” By Charlie Llewellin from Austin, USA is licensed under CC BY 2.0