SANTA ANA (CNS) - An attorney for rapper Clifford "T.I." Harris and his wife, singer-songwriter Tameka "Tiny" Harris, told jurors Wednesday that toy giant MGA Entertainment Inc. stole the likenesses of their popular girl group for the popular OMG LOL Surprise doll line, but the toymaker's attorney said it was the other way around.
The trial in a federal courtroom in Santa Ana is expected to last about 10 days.
Attorney David Scheper, who represents the Harris family, showed jurors the OMG Girlz group's videos and described how the band took off in mid 2012.
He also showed a video from an August 2012 show of the group playing to a "packed audience."
By 2012, "They were a national brand," Scheper said of the girl group.
The next year, they performed live about 30 times, he said. They continued performing live in 2014 and were "still killing it with millions of followers on social media," he added.
The band "hit a pause in 2015," but reunited for a New Year's Eve concert in 2017 with Tiny Harris' band Xscape, he said.
"They brought the house down," Scheper said. "Someone was watching that reunion ... and that someone worked at MGA Entertainment."
The outfits the band wore at that show ended up on the dolls, Scheper said.
MGA founder Isaac Larian and his company "have sold a lot of OMG dolls and they never asked for permission and they never gave permission and never saw a penny from all those sales," Scheper said.
Scheper showed photos of the band members next to pictures of the dolls to underscore his argument that the group inspired the looks of the toys.
Scheper accused the company of making dolls with no resemblance to the girl group as a "defense" against the claims in the lawsuit.
Some buyers of the dolls were expected to testify that they thought they were inspired by the girl group, Scheper said.
"You'll hear from consumers who bought OMG dolls in the belief they were inspired by the OMG Girlz," Scheper said. "These witnesses come from all over the nation."
Scheper said one of the chief doll designers was a "super fan" of Tiny Harris. He also showed jurors an email chain in 2019 among employees at the company who confused a social media post about the girl group with their toys. At one point in the email chain the head designer realizes the misunderstanding and writes, "Ha, ha, ha, I think they're talking about OMG Girlz, not OMG dolls," Scheper said.
On Dec. 8, 2020, the Harris family sent a "demand letter" to MGA, but rather than respond or attempt to resolve the issue the family was met with a federal lawsuit, Scheper said.
He also faulted the company for not having a policy to retain documents, Scheper said.
The attorney said it will be important for jurors to listen to the testimony, but he added it was more important to use their eyes.
"What you see, what your eyes tell you, is more important," Scheper said. "There was copying, there was inspiration, there was confusion."
The Harris family wants "economic justice," Scheper said.
Attorney Jennifer Keller, who represents MGA, gave jurors a history lesson about 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" should 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 said the designer Scheper cited as a "super fan" of Tiny Harris denied that in a deposition. The designer was "offended" at the suggestion she borrowed the looks of the OMG Girlz for her design.
"She used her own hair as the inspiration," Keller said.
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.
Keller also said the OMG Girlz was not a major success.
"They didn't sell a single album," she said. "They didn't headline one concert."
The "packed audiences" at their live shows were there to see the headliner, Keller said.
Tiny Harris "spent a million dollars" on choreographers and songwriters for the group, and the only reason they were on TV was because they were part of their parents' reality TV show, Keller said.
"They were pleading for corporate sponsors," Keller said.
In 2013, the group each earned about $30,000 apiece, "The same as a good wedding singer," Keller said.
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.
MGA also argued that the Harris family 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 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."