Rapper T.I. and his wife, singer Tameka “Tiny” Harris, are facing off with a Chatsworth toymaker in a federal civil trial that began in a Santa Ana courtroom on Wednesday, Jan. 18, over more than two-dozen dolls that the couple says were based on the stolen likeness of their daughter and her two partners in a musical group.
T.I. and Tiny are seeking payment from the high-profile toymaker MGA Entertainment for dolls in the company’s “L.O.L. Surprise! OMG” line that the couple alleges improperly used the likeness of the OMG Girls, a former rap group that included Tiny’s daughter and two of her friends.
An attorney representing MGA fired back at the couple during opening statements — describing the lawsuit as a “shakedown” and the OMG Girls as a financially challenged group whose members actually borrowed their style from the toymakers earlier line of dolls in the popular Bratz franchise.
Jurors were repeatedly shown photos comparing the dolls and the members of OMG Girls, which shared a fashion aesthetic emphasizing brightly colored hair, makeup and clothes.
The OMG Girls were formed in 2009 with the help of Tiny, and made regular appearances on the reality show “T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle.” Along with Zonnique Pullins — Tiny’s daughter and T.I.’s stepdaughter — the group also included Reginae Carter — the daughter of rapper Lil’ Wayne — and sisters Lourdes and Bahja Rodriguez.
David Scheper, one of the attorney’s representing T.I. and Tiny, told jurors that the OMG Girls’ colorful hair, colorful clothing that often included tutu’s and flowing shirts and chemistry between the members was key to the group.
“This brand was so big that it became good enough to steal,” Scheper said.
Several years after the group stopped recording and performing, in 2015, Scheper alleged that MGA Entertainment began releasing dolls based on the group’s images. The trial is focusing on 31 specific dolls, the attorney added.
Jennifer Keller, one of the attorneys representing MGA, flatly denied that any of the dolls were based on the OMG Girls or inspired by the group. She said the OMG Girls brightly-colored style mirrored not only the earlier Bratz dolls but also other pop stars at the time, including Katy Perry, TLC, Lady Gaga and Avril Lavigne.
“This case is about greed, it is a shakedown,” Keller told jurors. “They were trend followers, not trend setters.”
Keller said the dolls cited in the lawsuit were meant to be “older sisters” based on “younger” dolls that had previously been released. The attorney displayed so-called vision boards comprised of collages of numerous photographs of people who toy designers used as inspiration for the specific dolls, none of which she said included photos of the members of OMG Girls.
It isn’t clear if jurors will hear about T.I. and Tiny’s past legal issues. In 2001, prosecutors in Los Angeles announced they wouldn’t pursue criminal charges against the couple over sexual-assault allegations because of an expired statute of limitations. An earlier 2009 federal gun conviction led T.I. — whose real name is Clifford Harris — to spend a year in prison.
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