Jury rules in favor of toymaker in legal dispute with rapper Clifford “TI” Harris and his wife – Orange County Register
On Friday, a federal jury in Santa Ana ruled against a lawsuit by rapper Clifford “TI” Harris and singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris alleging a Chatsworth-based toymaker stole the name and image of a girl group they managed to create. a popular line of dolls.
The husband and wife musicians demanded nearly $100 million from MGA Entertainment, Inc., which started selling the OMG LOL Surprise dolls in 2019.
The Harris family claimed the dolls’ hair, dress and name were nearly identical to the OMG Girlz, a trio of teenage singers the couple promoted from 2009 to 2015, and during a brief reunion in 2017.
When the Harris family sent a cease and desist order to MGA in 2020, the company sued.
The toymaker prevailed on Friday, May 26 after their lawyers argued that the girl group allowed their trademark on the OMG Girlz name to expire in 2018.
“They dropped it,” MGA attorney Jennifer Keller said of the group’s original OMG Girlz name.
“They actually dropped it when they changed their name,” Keller said, referring to the band’s renaming to OMG, short for “Officially Miss Guided.”
Keller also argued that the 1st Amendment protected the company’s creative team by coming up with original designs for the dolls.
In often harsh and personal language, Keller said the OMG Girls weren’t famous or distinctive enough to claim the toy company had copied their look.
“They weren’t famous,” Keller said. “These ladies were trend followers, not trend setters. They never got off the ground.
OMG Girlz attorney John Keville pointed out that the group had a large following on social media and was popular in the Atlanta area, where it was most active. He said they had amassed a strong fanbase among black teenage girls and still maintained their social media presence.
Keville attempted to capitalize on the similarities between the band’s outfits and the dolls. In his closing arguments, he showed the jury an array of OMG Girlz decked out in hip clothes with crazy patterns and pink and purple hair. This has been compared to dolls with names like Lady Diva, Sweets and Spicy Babe.
He questioned an MGA designer’s claim that one of the dolls named Major Lady was based on late rock singer David Bowie.
“Number one, David Bowie didn’t look like that,” Keville said, pointing to Major Lady, who sported pale skin and red hair. “Number two, it’s weird to say you’re marketing to little girls and being inspired by David Bowie.”
Keville likened the case to the fictional battle between McDonald’s and a similar-sounding restaurant chain “McDowell’s” in the Eddie Murphy comedy “Coming to America.”
The jury was apparently not convinced that a significant number of consumers associated the dolls with the group.
In their testimony, MGA presented a survey of approximately 1,500 doll buyers which found no consumers who believed there was a connection between OMG Girlz dolls and OMG LOL Surprise dolls.
Keville’s team attempted to thwart the investigation by calling four fans of the group as witnesses, who said they purchased the dolls because they believed they were associated with the OMG Girlz.
Friday’s verdict marked the end of a bitter two-and-a-half-year court battle between MGA and the Harris family. The first legal confrontation between the two parties ended in a cancellation of the trial.
MGA founder Isaac Larian said he was relieved after the judge read the jury’s verdict on Friday. He said he refused to settle the case to protect his workers’ creative license.
“Our designers are the heart and soul of our business,” Larian said. “(The Harris family) was trying to capitalize on their hard work.”
Clifford Harris, who spoke briefly to reporters before leaving the courthouse, previously said he had taken legal action to protect his family’s legacy. Among the OMG Girlz is Tiny Harris’ daughter, Zonnique Pullins.
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