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Adam Yauch performed as MCA in the Beastie Boys, the rap band he co-founded in 1981 with Mike Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock). I first saw the Beastie Boys perform on my 16th birthday in March, 1987 as they toured behind their debut album release, Licensed to Ill. (Buy it here from the best indi music store ever, Newbury Comics!) My life always had a soundtrack and the Beastie Boys often were on it. To my parent’s dismay, in high school the Beasties taught me to Fight for My Right (to Party!):
And in college they helped me get Intergalatic:
Tragically, Adam died on May 4, 2012 just one month after the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. According to an article on RollingStone.com, Yauch’s will was filed in Manhattan Surrogate Court on Tuesday, July 7, 2012. Rolling Stone obtained a copy of the will, which expressly states, “in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes.”
One day after the filing of Yauch’s will in state court, the Beastie Boys took on a monster. Not just any monster, but one with such a widely recognized reputation as a “trademark bully” that a sweet girl from Florida created a petition on Change.org to send the monster to the dungeon for its current attack on the MonsterFishKeepers. (To support the fish, click here). The Beastie Boys did one better by taking Monster Energy to federal court, suing it for copyright infringement, as well as trademark infringement, unfair competition and violation of Section 51 of New York Civil Rights Law for infringement on the band members’ rights of publicity (which NY law characterizes as a right of privacy).
The Plaintiffs are the Beastie Boys Partnership, along with Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA’s widow, Dechen Yauch, as the Executor of MCA’s estate. They claim that “Defendant Monster” (what a visual; MCA would be proud!) recorded and synchronized several Beastie Boys compositions and used them without permission, along with the Beastie Boys trademark. These were used in video and MP3 promoting Monster’s products and its Ruckus in the Rockies event, which ironically took place the day after MCA died.
Defendant Monster indeed; what kind of company ignores a beloved dead celeb’s last wishes?!? After all, does this ruckus really look like something with which MCA would want to be associated?
Well, let me rephrase that. Would MCA — a practicing Buddhist — ever in a million years have licensed his works and likeness to hawk an energy drink? I say not a chance in Nirvana (the state of being, not the band)! The Beastie Boys asked the court for a preliminary and permanent injunction precluding Monster from continuing to broadcast or distribute the infringing video and MP3. They also ask for not less than $150,000 for each of the 9 infringed musical compositions, sound recordings, and MP3 copyrights. The Beastie Boys have been good about registering the copyrights in their works. They have 211 copyright registrations and if the infringed works were “timely” registered then they can elect to seek statutory damages at any time during the case and will be entitled to their attorneys’ fees, which are likely to be huge! They also seek all profits and treble (triple) damages for use of their trademarks and unspecified damages for use of Diamond & Horovitz’s voices. Though I bet the video mash up was really cool, how uncool of Monster to do so for its own profit without permission especially considering Yauch’s health condition. The sympathy factor alone means Monster’s starting this case off with one foot in the grave . . . where I suspect MCA is gearin’ up to royally kick its ass!
If you don’t ask the answer is always no. When it comes to licensing, if you ask and the answer stays no, well, at least you won’t get sued!