Atlanta rapper T.I. and his wife Tameka “Tiny” Harris want “economic justice” after a major toy company made “millions of dollars” off a line of dolls allegedly inspired by the all-female group OMG Girlz that the couple launched in 2009, their lawyer told jurors in a California courtroom Wednesday.
In opening statements for a trial in the case, the lawyer said MGA Entertainment stole the name, likeness and trade dress of the all-girl group when it launched its line of “L.O.L. Surprise! O.M.G” dolls in the summer of 2019 with strikingly similar looks popularized by OMG Girlz in music videos, live shows and appearances on T.I. and Tiny’s reality TV shows on BET and VH1.
In her dueling first address to jurors, MGA Entertainment lawyer Jennifer Keller countered that T.I. and Tiny have no legitimate claim to any profits from the dolls.
“This case is about greed. That’s what it’s about. It’s a shakedown,” Keller said in a federal courtroom in Santa Ana, Calif.
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 as the signature look of the OMG Girlz. She said even the girl group’s name was derivative, considering the “z” at the end similar to Bratz.
“(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.”
T.I. and Tiny sat in the courtroom for the opening statements along with Tiny’s daughter, Zonnique Pullins, a musician in her own right who was an original member of OMG Girlz along with Lil Wayne’s daughter Reginae Carter. Pullins, 26, remained with the act after it evolved into a trio with Bahja “Beauty” Rodriguez and Breaunna “Babydoll” Womack.
According to T.I. and Tiny’s lawyer, David C. Scheper, OMG Girlz became a national brand by 2012 and played more than 30 concerts all around the country in 2013 to “jubilant” audiences in “packed arenas.” He said the band “hit pause” in 2015, but then reunited for a “truly decisive” 2017 New Year’s Eve performance at what was then known as the Philips Arena in Atlanta.
“They brought the house down, and their social media exploded thereafter, and the OMG Girlz became and remain highly relevant,” Scheper said. “Now, someone was watching that reunion appearance. And that someone, we don’t know who, worked at MGA Entertainment. You will see that outfits worn by the OMG Girlz at that New Year’s event in Atlanta later translated into dolls that (MGA founder) Isaac Larian and MGA are making millions of dollars off of.”
Scheper showed jurors a photo of Rodriguez’s half-pink, half-black hairstyle from the performance and compared it with an “L.O.L. Surprise! O.M.G.” doll with a strikingly similar hairstyle released in late 2019.
He also showed jurors a photo of the OMG Girlz from their 2013 “All Around the World” tour and compared their matching black and white outfits with bared midriffs to an “L.O.L. Surprise! O.M.G.” doll with a notably similar ensemble.
“This is one of the most unmistakable borrowings,” Scheper told the jurors.
He said the 31 dolls at issue in the case created “confusion” with consumers who walked into stores, saw the dolls with the distinctive styling and O.M.G. name and purchased them thinking they were somehow connected to the girl group. Scheper said some of the consumers would testify at the trial expected to last three weeks.
Scheper also said an email chain dated Dec. 31, 2019 and found on MGA’s server proves key employees at the company were not only aware of the OMG Girlz as a musical act but were cognizant that people were confusing their dolls with the group.
“Isaac Larian has sworn nobody has heard of the OMG Girlz, they are nothing, they are nowhere. But they were something and somewhere on New Year’s Eve of 2019,” Scheper said, showing jurors the email chain on a screen in the courtroom.
The email shared a link in which a celebrity appeared to be “expressing or exclaiming enthusiasm over the OMG dolls, or so MGA thought,” the lawyer said. It turns out the link was referring to the girl group, he said.
“Hahaha!!,” the internal email forwarded to an MGA designer with the subject line, “OMG Doll in Music Video,” read. “I think they’re talking about OMG Girlz, not OMG dolls.”
Scheper said the email was “evidence of actual knowledge that there is confusion just two months after the dolls were launched.”
The legal battle behind the lawsuit started when lawyers for T.I. and Tiny sent a demand letter to MGA in December 2020 that made clear the couple, through their companies Grand Hussle and Pretty Hussle, believed the intellectual property rights of OMG Girlz were not being honored. Instead of engaging in talks or launching an investigation, MGA preemptively filed a lawsuit asking the court to step in and confirm it owns the name and image of the dolls, Scheper said. T.I. and Tiny later countersued, claiming MGA misappropriated the name, likeness and “trade dress” of the OMG Girlz.
“What your eyes are showing you is that there was copying, there was inspiration, there was actual confusion, there was evidence of confusion in MGA’s ranks,” Scheper told jurors.
The MGA lawyer countered that the OMG Girlz made only a “modest cultural impact” and that many of the group’s same looks were popularized by other musical artists in years prior. Keller showed jurors a collage of photos depicting celebrities with brightly colored locks, including Rihanna with electric blue hair, Katy Perry with bright green hair, Lil Kim with neon yellow hair and Nicki Minaj with a hairstyle that was half white and half pink.
Keller then suggested MGA will attempt to bring evidence of T.I. and Tiny’s prior controversies into the trial, though she didn’t get specific. In 2021, nearly a dozen people accused T.I. and Tiny of “sexual abuse, forced ingestion of illegal narcotics, kidnapping, terroristic threats and false imprisonment.” However, prosecutors in Los Angeles declined to move forward with the case, and the couple did not face charges.
“None of our dolls are based on the OMG Girlz. We would never design and try to market children’s toys based on the OMG Girlz and the Hussle parties, the Harris family, with which they’re associated. It is not a family most people would want their children to emulate. And you’re going to see why that is in evidence produced throughout this trial,” Keller said.
Pullins, 26, was called as the first witness and spent her first three hours on the stand describing and defending the “signature” look of the OMG Girlz.
“Didn’t lots of teenage girls, when you were a teenager, wear fun clothes?” Keller asked her on cross-examination.
“How fun are you talking? OMG fun, or regular fun?” Pullins shot back. “OMG fun is random, it’s colorful. A lot of girls don’t just put on three shirts and tutus and walk outside to go to the grocery store. I don’t believe that, no.”
Keller also grilled Pullins over the 16 percent financial stake in OMG Girlz that she was granted last May, just days before she signed a declaration supporting her mom and step-dad’s claims in the case. Pullins said she was under the impression her group members also received financial interests in the group, but that was not confirmed by her testimony.
T.I. and Tiny also are due to be called as witnesses during the trial, as is Larian. Keller tried to prepare jurors for Larian’s expected testimony in her opening.
“Growing up poor and Jewish in Iran has made Mr. Larian not only persistent and driven, but a fighter, and sometimes he responds to aggressive questioning by fighting, and you may not like that, but he’ll always tell you the truth,” she said. “So when somebody sues and defames him and accuses his hardworking designers of copying and stealing, he fights back.”