A federal judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the legal dispute between toy giant MGA Entertainment Inc. and rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris and his wife, singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris, over the popular OMG LOL Surprise doll line.
U.S. District Judge James Selna declared a mistrial following the playing of deposition testimony from a consumer, who said she stopped buying the dolls because she believed the Harris family’s claims that MGA had lifted the designs for the doll line from the Harrises’ OMG Girlz group and profited through misappropriation of Black culture. Selna had ruled prior to trial that claims of “cultural appropriation” were out of bounds.
Following the ruling of a mistrial, MGA issued a statement saying, “Diversity has always been a key value at MGA Entertainment in both our people and our toys. In fact, MGA brought diversity to the fashion doll category more than 21 years ago with the introduction of Bratz dolls. We are disappointed that the trial was cut short but look forward to vindicating our rights in the next trial.”
The Harris family’s attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment. They claimed in opening statements of the trial that MGA stole the likenesses of Harris’ OMG Girlz group, but MGA’s attorneys said it was the other way around.
After the deposition testimony from consumer Moneice Campbell was played for jurors on Tuesday, MGA’s attorneys moved for a mistrial and said that any admonishment from Selna would not only be insufficient to quell any prejudice on the jury, but would also just draw more attention to the issue.
“The previously excluded testimony was nothing less than a rant by the witness about how she `stopped purchasing’ the O.M.G. dolls `because (she) did not want to support a company that steals from African Americans and their ideas and profit off of it and don’t give African Americans the profit,”’ MGA attorney Chase Scolnick argued in court papers.
Campbell also said “hundreds of people” share her opinion that the doll line “idea is stolen from the OMG Girlz … (because) people often steal from the Black community and make money off of it,” according to Scolnick.
MGA’s attorneys also argued that the Harris family’s attorneys repeatedly violated rules for sharing information about depositions that would be used in the trial. They also argued that the Harris family’s team attempted to circumvent Selna’s pre-trial ruling against “cultural appropriation” issues.
“This was no accident,” Scolnick said. “This is the third time (the Harris team) and their counsel have tried to introduce prohibited testimony in violation of the court’s order.”
The attorneys for the Harris family had 11 days to remove the testimony from Campbell’s deposition but failed to do it, Scolnick argued.
Attorney David Scheper, who represents the Harris family, made the case at the trial’s onset that the toy company ripped off the styles of the OMG Girlz group, which gained fame on a reality TV show about T.I. Harris and Tiny Harris. Scheper said the group became a “national brand” by 2012 as they performed to “packed houses.”
Attorney Jennifer Keller, who represents MGA, gave jurors a history lesson about MGA founder Isaac Larian’s life story growing up poor in Iran and emigrating to the U.S. at 17 with $750 and unable to speak English before his company created the game-changing Bratz toy line. Larian began work as a dishwasher and eventually earned a degree in civil engineering.
The inspiration for the Bratz toy line, which debuted in 2001, came when his daughter, Jasmine, asked him why her Barbie did not look like her, Keller said.
“He knew it was important for all races and ethnicities” to be reflected in dolls, Keller said.
The Bratz line was “completely unprecedented … and it became a huge hit,” Keller said. “They sold hundreds of millions of dolls.”
Keller showed a line of Bratz dolls from 2005 who are part of a music group.
“They have a band, and the colored hair and all these features the OMG Girlz say they came up with,” Keller said.
“Keep asking yourself, who’s copying whom?” Keller said.
Keller also noted that the pop singer Usher had a popular song with OMG in the title before the girl group began. Keller also noted how singer Katy Perry first modeled many of the fashions the OMG Girlz also used.
“They look like they raided Katy Perry’s closet,” Keller said.
Keller also said the clothes the girls group used were bought off the rack from popular youth clothing stores such as Forever 21, H&M and Hot Topic.
The inspiration for the LOL Surprise line in 2016 came from the popularity of opening boxes of toys on YouTube, Keller said. Larian came up with the idea for the boxes of toys to include “surprises,” Keller said.
When that line of dolls was so successful the idea came to create “big sisters” for the dolls in 2019, Keller said. The way the “big sisters” are designed starts with the “tots” version and evolves with inspiration from a variety of places, Keller said. None of the designers referred to the OMG Girlz group for inspiration in the “Outrageous Millennial Girlz” line, Keller said.
“This case is about greed,” Keller said.
The Harris family wants “tens of millions of dollars for doing nothing.”
The OMG Girlz were “trend followers, not trend setters,” Keller said.