The Beastie Boys' lawsuit against Monster Beverage Corp. went to trial today in Manhattan's Financial District. Seated in a large, ornate courtroom in the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse -- which Federal Judge Paul A. Engelmayer described as "ancient... like a haunted house" -- the two surviving members of the Beastie Boys, Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz and Michael "Mike D" Diamond sat besuited, in sneakers, alongside loved ones including Horovitz's wife and singer Kathleen Hanna as well as Dechen Wangdu, the widow of late Beastie Boy Adam Yauch.
The case centers around a video posted by Monster of a snowboarding event called "Ruckus in the Rockies" that the company threw in Canada. The video, posted online a few days after the death of Yauch, included five Beastie Boys songs -- "Sabotage," "Pass the Mic," "Make Some Noise," "So What'cha Want" and "Looking Down the Barrel Of a Gun" -- that a DJ, Z-Trip, hired by Monster to perform at the event, had placed into his "Beastie Boys Megamix." The video shown in court is a fairly typical promotional video featuring the company's green logo placed across the scene using the "Megamix" throughout.
Adam Yauch's will stated that his likeness or art, including his work with the Beastie Boys, was not to be used for advertising purposes. The second-to-last shot of the video featured "RIP MCA" rendered in a typeface reminiscent of Monster's logo.
Both the plaintiff and defense's opening statements were long-winded -- enough to spur the judge to stress to both parties that they not exceed estimated times -- and touched on the somewhat awkward necessities of dealing with musical culture in a staid court environment. Indeed, the defense's counsel raised some smirks from the plaintiff's bench describing the word dope; "You'll learn during the course of this case that 'dope'... is a positive affirmation."
The defense plainly stated that they had infringed on the Beasties' work, but that the prosecution's claim of $1 million in damages for the song licenses and another $1 million for the "implied endorsement" of being featured in the Monster video were "nonsense," saying that the defense's forthcoming witnesses would prove damages no larger than $125,000. They characterized the misuse as "a mistake."
After opening statements, Ad-Rock took the witness stand, seeming both focused and bemused in equal turn. The Beasties' attorney took Horovitz through an accounting of his musical career, intending to impress on the jury the value of the Beasties' work and their extremely rare success, in order to bolster their case for a larger reward. Horovitz said his career "began in high school," saying they were "very lucky," having sold "millions of records around the world. Very lucky." Horovitz was also asked to describe the Beasties' artistic process. Beginning with a smirk, he said that "We get together every day. Music always comes first," going on to say that a song "can take a year from beginning to end," and "a couple years for each album."
Horovitz couldn't help from smiling and laughing at some of the music business rudiments the case required him to explain, such as the nature of a "single." He described the importance of the five songs used as "very important to our catalog."
During cross examination, proceedings got even more humorous, as the defense tried to establish that the Beastie Boys' claim of never licensing their work for consumer products, which Horovitz called "a form of selling out," wasn't true. This entailed Horovitz examining several pictures of Mike Diamond posted in a sailor outfit for the watch promotional campaign. Asked if it was Mike D in a sailor costume, Horovitz responded with a smile "He sure is." It seemed to take everything in Horovitz's power not to laugh out loud as the defense brought forth a gargantuan poster featuring Mike D's sailor picture for the jury to examine.
The case is expected to take five or six days and will likely find the Beastie Boys being awarded some remuneration for the infringement of their work, but the nuances around whether the "RIP MCA" still and the implied endorsement will impact the amount of awarded damages.