T.I. and Tiny’s lawsuit against L.O.L. doll maker MGA Entertainment ended in a mistrial Wednesday after jurors heard barred testimony accusing the toy company of “racist cultural appropriation.”
U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna granted MGA’s motion for mistrial on the sixth day of the multimillion-dollar court battle over claims MGA stole the name, likeness, and trade dress of the all-female group OMG Girlz started by Tameka “Tiny” Harris in 2009 and popularized on her reality show with her rapper husband, Clifford “T.I.” Harris.
Heading into the trial, Judge Selna ruled that T.I. and Tiny would have to steer clear of the claims in their original May 2021 cross-complaint that MGA founder Isaac Larian engages in a “routine practice” of “using his doll business to misappropriate the likeness of Black female artists.”
According to MGA’s mistrial motion, lawyers for T.I. and Tiny violated the ruling Tuesday when they allowed jurors in the Santa Ana, Calif., courtroom to hear “incurably prejudicial” deposition testimony from a consumer who testified on video that she “stopped purchasing” MGA’s L.O.L. Surprise OMG dolls once she learned the OMG Girlz were not affiliated with the toys.
In the testimony, the woman said she “did not want to support a company that steals from African Americans and their ideas.” She also stated her belief that MGA’s L.O.L. Surprise OMG dolls were “stealing [the O.M.G. Girlz’s] likeness and making money off it, [which] happens every day in the Black community.”
“Hearing the testimony was even worse than reading it in the cold print. The prejudicial nature of this testimony accusing MGA of racist cultural appropriation cannot be understated,” lawyers for MGA wrote in their Wednesday filing. “There is no unringing this bell, no way for MGA to counter the improper testimony, and no instruction the court can give to cure this problem.”
After siding with MGA, pulling the plug on the trial, and releasing the jury, Judge Selna set a status conference for Feb. 2 to discuss starting over.
“Since the beginning of this case, MGA and Mr. Larian’s strategy has been to deny accountability, distract from the facts, and demean our clients – the OMG Girlz, and Mr. and Mrs. Harris. The attempted intimidation and bullying tactics by Mr. Larian and his legal team are finally coming to light. We will not be deterred nor discouraged. We look forward to having a fair trial and bringing justice to the OMG Girlz and their enduring brand,” T.I. and Tiny’s lead lawyer Erin Ranahan said in a statement to Rolling Stone Wednesday night.
“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,” an MGA spokesperson said after the mistrial ruling.
Lawyers for T.I. and Tiny did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
In her testimony last week, Tiny told jurors she believed MGA “ripped off” the “signature” look of the OMG Girlz, the group that evolved into a trio featuring her daughter Zonnique Pullins, known as “Star,” Bahja Rodriguez, known as “Beauty,” and Breaunna Womack, known as “Babydoll.”
She said the group toured widely, appeared on TV, and became instantly recognizable for their brightly colored hair, layered clothing, and exaggerated accessories.
She said one L.O.L. Surprise OMG doll in particular, named Chillax, sported a “blatant” copy of the black-and-white costume the girls wore on their “All Around The World” tour.
“This doll is too familiar. The outfit for me is a big, big deal,” she testified. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t the OMG brand, all the different coincidences, the outfit we created. This particular outfit was designed, created, handmade, if you will, for the girls’ tour.”
Tiny, a member of the multi-platinum Nineties R&B group Xscape and a Grammy-winning songwriter recognized for her contributions to the TLC hit “No Scrubs,” testified that she and the OMG Girlz worked hard to create their brand and deserved compensation.
“I’m merely stating that this brand was ripped off,” she testified.
Lawyers for Larian and MGA disagreed. In her opening statement last week, MGA lawyer Jennifer Keller called T.I. and Tiny’s claims of infringement a “shakedown.”
“This case is about greed. That’s what it’s about,” Keller told jurors.
“[They] want tens of millions of dollars from MGA Entertainment for doing absolutely nothing, and I do mean nothing. We’re going to show you that the OMG Girlz actually copied us, and now complain we look like them,” she said. “They were trend followers, not trend setters.”
According to Keller, MGA marketed dolls in its wildly popular Bratz line back in 2005 that were styled as musicians with the same bright pink, purple, and blue hair claimed by the OMG Girlz. She said even the girl group’s name was derivative, considering the “z” at the end similar to Bratz.