Rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris and his wife, singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris will square off Wednesday against toy giant MGA Entertainment Inc. in a federal courtroom in Santa Ana in a dispute over the inspiration for the popular OMG LOL Surprise dolls.
The Grammy-winning artists contend MGA took its inspiration from their OMG Girlz group and that the line of dolls infringes on their copyrights.
The toymaker has countered that the couple has failed to show they possess intellectual property rights of the girl group. MGA has also contended the couple made a false claim that they once had a deal to produce a doll line based on the OMG Girlz group. MGA is also arguing it has a First Amendment protection and that the couple cannot show that any of the alleged conduct was “deliberate or willful.”
MGA has also argued that the couple took too long to bring a claim.
The success of any First Amendment claim will turn on whether MGA can show that the doll designers have added enough significant creative wrinkles that it transforms the work into something distinguishable from any inspiration.
MGA argues that the songwriters “have no evidence to support their allegations of intentional copying.”
The company said the toy maker’s designers have “testified and submitted declarations that the dolls were not based on the OMG Girlz or pictures of the OMG Girlz.”
MGA also argued in court papers that the couple falsely claimed that in 2010 MGA publicly announced plans to create a line of dolls modeled on the girl group but when they failed to reach an agreement they went through with the doll line anyway.
“Tameka Harris has since recanted this story, admitting in deposition she ‘cannot say’ it ever happened,” MGA argues in court papers.
MGA expert Bruce Isaacson surveyed about 1,500 doll customers to gauge the “likelihood of confusion” between the dolls and the girl group and he concluded “zero people associated MGA’s dolls with the OMG Girlz, and zero people believed the dolls look like the OMG Girlz or any of their members.”
The couple counters that “MGA’s infringing OMG Dolls have commercially exploited the existing trade dress, name, image and brand popularity of the OMG Girlz, leading to consumer confusion as the origin of the goods. MGA’s infringement of the OMG Girlz trade dress was willful and malicious.”
The couple contends that the dolls have “caused economic harm to the OMG Girlz through consumer confusion, loss of goodwill and reputation, and by depriving the OMG parties of the right to control the time, place, terms and manner by which to publicize said parties’ special talents.”
The couple is also seeking compensation from profits from the popular doll line.
The couple will also argue that the “OMG Girlz were exploring creating a line of licensed dolls and that MGA’s infringement deprived the OMG Girlz of the opportunity to do so.”
They say they sent MGA a cease-and-desist letter in December 2020 only to be met with a lawsuit.