Beastie Boys v. Monster Energy
Adam Yauch, a member of the Beastie Boys, sadly passed away in May 2012. Several days after Yauch’s will became public, the Beastie Boys filed a lawsuit against Monster Energy Company for copyright and trademark infringement and violation of the New York Civil Rights law. The suit alleges that Monster used parts of the band’s songs, including “Sabotage,” “So Whatcha Want,” and “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” in promotional videos for Monster Energy Drinks. These videos were used to promote Ruckus in the Rockies, a Monster-sponsored snowboarding event.
How did Monster allegedly violate the Beasties’ legal rights, and what issues does this lawsuit raise?
The complaint also alleges that Monster used the band’s music in a video that was posted on Monster’s website and on other Monster’s social media platforms, and that Monster created an MP3 that contained 23 minutes of their music. Both the video and the MP3 were given by Monster to other websites to post, such as Snowboardmag.com. All of this was done without the permission of the Beastie Boys, according to the complaint. “The purchasing public immediately identifies the products offered under the Beastie Boys Marks with a single source. Therefore, the Beastie Boys Marks, and the goodwill associated therewith, are of inestimable value,” the complaint states. “The public was confused into believing that plaintiffs sponsored, endorsed and are associated with defendant Monster in promoting defendant Monster’s products and promotional events.” As for trademark and publicity rights violations, the complaint alleges that the “text contained in the Video includes the name ‘Beastie Boys’ and the legal or professional name of Yauch.”
There is an interesting twist to this complaint and the timing of the filing. At some point after Yauch had his will drawn up, he added, in handwriting, “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes.” Presumably, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz (the surviving band members), along the estate of Adam Yauch, wanted to respect Yauch’s wishes. This addition to Yauch’s will poses several issues, one of which is that Yauch treated publicity rights and copyrights in the added sentence as if they were interchangeable. However, the law is significantly different for publicity rights and copyrights. Rights of publicity vary from state to state, while copyright law is governed by Federal law.
The Beastie Boys are asking for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief that would stop defendant Monster from using the Beastie Boys Marks, identity, and persona without a license or authorization. The band is also asking for $150,000 in damages for each individual infringement, treble damages of Monster’s profits, actual damages allegedly sustained by the plaintiffs, attorneys’ fees and costs, as well as damages under New York Civil Rights Law, which covers publicity rights associated with the estate of Yauch, a New York resident at the time of his death.