You will never be able to accuse the Beastie Boys of selling out. In a funny yet significant lawsuit, the surviving members of the classic hip-hop group — Mike “D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, as well as the widow of the late Adam “MCA” Yauch — fought for their (copy)rights and were awarded $1.7 million in their case against Monster Energy on Thursday.
The lawsuit sought up to $2.5 million on the grounds of copyright infringement and false endorsement. The Beastie’s claimed that the energy drink company infringed on their rights when they posted a promotional video that included parts of their songs “Sabotage,” “So What’cha Want,” “Make Some Noise,” and “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” that was made from footage of a set by DJ Z-Trip at the festival Ruckus in the Rockies, an event sponsored by Monster. A 23-minute “Megamix” of Beastie Boys songs was also briefly available for download.
The primary issue for the Beastie Boys appeared to be that the public could be “confused” into thinking that the group “sponsored, endorsed and are associated with defendant Monster in promoting defendant Monster’s productions and promotional events,” according to their complaint. The lawsuit was filed in 2012, shortly after the death of Adam “MCA” Yauch. The will of the late rapper/ bassist specifically prohibits the use of the group’s music for any advertising purposes.
While Monster admitted that it infringed on the group’s copyrights, it argued it should pay no more than $125,000, because the music was only available for a short time and was posted due to an employee’s semantical misunderstanding of the word “Dope.” No, seriously, that was their argument.
Take it away, Rolling Stone:
“According to the legal opinion dismissing Z-Trip’s involvement in the case last November, the presiding judge noted a Monster employee had sent Z-Trip a rough cut of a video using his Beastie Boys megamix. When Z-Trip replied, in part, “Dope!,” the employee interpreted that to mean he had permission to run the video on Monster’s website. Z-Trip testified that he was merely “convey[ing] that I liked how I appeared in the video.
“A bulk of the opinion was spent on considering the legal definition of the word “dope” and if it legally constituted a license for Monster to use the video. As the court noted, “In proper context, the word ‘Dope!’ could certainly be taken as an expression, albeit unorthodox, of approval and acceptance of another’s antecedent offer,” the court said. “But here, Z-Trip’s exclamation, ‘Dope!’ was in response to [the] query, ‘Please have a look at the video from this past weekend and let me know if you approve.’
“Viewed in this context, Z-Trip’s response of ‘Dope!’ plainly communicated that, in some sense, he ‘approve[d]’ of ‘the video.’ But such approval is quite distinct from conveying assent to a mutual exchange of promises or other consideration. And it certainly did not convey that Z-Trip had authority to approve, on behalf of the Beastie Boys, a free license to Monster to use the Beastie Boys’ recordings and songs.”
Rolling Stone adds, “When asked for comment on Beastie Boys’ court victory, Z-Trip told Rolling Stone, ‘Dope!’”
While the details of the case itself are funny — and, fittingly, the case had many comic moments — the lawsuit really centers around the idea of artistic integrity. It’s clearly an important principle to the Beastie Boys, as this lawsuit and another legal action against the toy company GoldieBlox prove. The rigorous defense mounted by the Beastie Boys in the Monster case was likely in part to deter any other companies from using their music in the future. Mike D even testified that they turned down “a lot of money” for the use of their song “Sabotage” in the promotional material of the recent Arnold Schwarzenegger film of the same name.
“It felt like too much of an endorsement,” he said.
After the verdict was reached, Reuters quoted Horovitz as saying, “We’re happy. We just want to thank the jury.” Monster, meanwhile, plans to appeal the ruling.
“Monster Energy has been willing to resolve this matter in a fair and equitable manner and we will continue to make additional efforts to reach a just resolution of this dispute,” Reid Kahn, an attorney for Monster, told Rolling Stone.
That’s the thing that Monster still doesn’t seem to understand: This lawsuit was never about money, it’s about integrity and honoring the wishes of their late friend and bandmate. And what’s the price of that?