Beastie Boys fight… for their right… by suing Monster Energy Drink

Following the death of founding Beastie Boys member, Adam Yaunch, the remaining Beastie Boys and Yaunch’s estate are suing Monster Energy Drink for using the band’s songs without permission and suggesting an endorsement that Beastie Boys had not given.

Adam Yaunch (also known as MCA) passed away in May this year after a lengthy battle with cancer. Prior to his death he made a handwritten amendment to his will stating that none of his music was to ever be used in advertising. In a law suit filed last week in New York, however, lawyers for Beastie Boys alleged that, only days after Yaunch’s death, Monster Energy Drink unlawfully used parts of Beastie Boys songs in a promotional video from Ruckus in the Rockies (a Canadian festival sponsored by Monster).

Here’s a chronology:f

  • On 4 May 2012 Adam Yaunch died.
  • On 5 May 2012 the Ruckus in the Rockies festival was held and DJs, including DJ Z-Trip, played a tribute to Yaunch that included a number of Beastie Boys recordings.
  • Immediately after the festival, footage of the concert that included Beastie Boys recordings was edited into a short video.
  • On 9 May 2012 the video was allegedly posted on the Monster website and included parts of Beastie Boys songs “Sabotage”, “So Whatcha Want”, “Make Some Noise” and “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun”.
  • Also on 9 May 2012 a 23 minute MP3 comprising a medley of Beastie Boys songs from the concert was also made available for download on the Monster website.

“Beastie Boys” © 2006 Masao Nakagami, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

The lawsuit alleges that Monster infringed copyright in Beastie Boys’ sound recordings and compositions by making and posting the video and MP3 and, additionally, that “the public was confused into believing that [Beastie Boys] sponsored, endorsed and are associated with… Monster in promoting… Monster’s products and promotional events” in breach of the Lanham Act (a US statute that prohibits trade mark infringement and false and misleading advertising). Beastie Boys claim that Monster’s use of its music has caused and will cause “irreparable harm” and are seeking injunctions and damages of $150,000 per infringement.

In addition to the above claims, the band is also asserting an infringement of New York Civil Rights Law §51 on the basis that the remaining two members, Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz’s “voices and style of singing are recognizable and distinctive and have generated a great deal of positive publicity”. This is not the first time singers have sued on the basis of their “Right of Publicity”. Tom Waits, for example, previously used his Right of Publicity to successfully sue an advertiser who recorded a “sound-alike” of his voice.

Not everyone is sympathetic to the Beastie’s plight, however. According to The Hollywood Reporter, in an ironic twist the Beastie Boys themselves, along with the Universal Music Group and Capital Records, were recently served with a law suit over alleged sampling of several Trouble Funk songs on the Beastie Boys’ iconic albums Licence to Ill (from 1986) and Paul’s Boutique (from 1989). It’s unclear why the proceedings have taken over twenty years to be commenced.

A Trouble Funk indeed…. Watch this space for further developments.