A federal jury in Santa Ana on Friday ruled against a legal claim by rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris and singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris’ that a Chatsworth-based toy manufacturer stole the name and likeness of a girl group they managed in creating a popular line of dolls.
The husband and wife musicians sought nearly $100 million from MGA Entertainment, Inc., which began selling the OMG LOL Surprise dolls in 2019.
The Harris family claimed the hair, dress and name of the dolls were nearly identical to the OMG Girlz, a trio of teenage singers promoted by the couple from 2009 until 2015, and during a brief 2017 reunion.
When the Harris family sent a cease-and-desist order to MGA in 2020, the company sued back.
The toy maker prevailed on Friday, May 26 after their attorneys argued the girl group allowed their trademark on the OMG Girlz name to lapse in 2018.
“They abandoned it,” Jennifer Keller, an MGA attorney, said of the group’s original OMG Girlz name.
“They actually abandoned it when they changed their name,” Keller said, referring to the group’s rebrand to just OMG, short for “Officially Miss Guided.”
Keller also argued that the 1st Amendment protected the company’s creative team in coming up with original designs for the dolls.
In often harsh, personal language, Keller said the OMG Girls were not famous or distinctive enough to claim the toy company copied their look.
“They were not famous,” Keller said. “These ladies were trend followers, not trend setters. They never achieved liftoff.”
The OMG Girlz’ attorney, John Keville, pointed out that the group had a sizeable following on social media and were popular in the Atlanta area, where they were most active. He said they amassed a strong fan base among Black teenage girls, and still maintained their social media presence.
Keville attempted to draw on the similarities between the group’s outfits and the dolls. In his closing arguments, he showed the jury a lineup of the OMG Girlz decked out in hip clothes with crazy patterns, and sporting pink and purple hair. That was compared to the dolls with names like Lady Diva, Sweets and Spicy Babe.
He questioned an MGA designer’s claim she based one of the dolls named Major Lady on late rock singer David Bowie.
“Number one, David Bowie didn’t look like this,” Keville said displaying Major Lady, who sported pale skin and red hair. “Number two, it’s odd to say you’re marketing to little girls and you’re inspired by David Bowie.”
Keville compared the case to the fictional battle between McDonald’s and similar sounding restaurant chain “McDowell’s” in the Eddie Murphy comedy “Coming to America.”
The jury was apparently not convinced a significant number of consumers associated the dolls with the group.
In their testimony, MGA presented a survey of about 1,500 buyers of the dolls that found no consumers who thought there was a connection between the OMG Girlz and the OMG LOL Suprise dolls.
Keville’s team attempted to counter the survey by calling four fans of the group as witnesses, who testified they bought the dolls because they believed they were associated with the OMG Girlz.
Friday’s verdict was the end of a bitter, two-and-a-half year court battle between MGA and the Harris family. The first legal showdown between the two parties ended in a mistrial.
MGA’s founder, Isaac Larian, said he was relieved after the judge read the jury’s verdict Friday. He said he refused to settle the case to protect his workers’ creative license.
“Our designers are the heart and the soul of our company,” Larian said. “(The Harris family) were trying to take advantage of their hard work.”
Clifford Harris, who spoke briefly with reporters before leaving the courthouse, previously said he filed the lawsuit to protect his family’s legacy. Among the OMG Girlz is Tiny Harris’ daughter, Zonnique Pullins.