27 January 2023TrademarksLiz Hockley

MGA dolls case gets mistrial over ‘cultural theft’ claims

Toymaker’s trademark trial hits impasse following “prejudicial” testimonial | The company had been accused of “profiting” from the heritage of the African American community.

A judge has declared that accusations of ‘cultural misappropriation’ directed at toymaker MGA Entertainment in a trademark dispute over its LOL Surprise OMG dolls warranted a mistrial.

The lawsuit, brought by MGA to defend itself against claims of copying by pop group OMG Girlz, came to a halt at the California Central District Court on Wednesday, January 25.

The bias issue

The judge accepted MGA’s argument that a testimonial put forward by OMG Girlz’ defence team could have biased the jury beyond repair.

In the testimony, a buyer of OMG dolls alleged that the company had not only copied OMG Girlz but had also stolen and profited from the African American community.

OMG Girlz is a US pop girl group, formed in 2009 by Tameka ‘Tiny’ Cottle. The group sent a cease-and-desist letter to MGA in 2020, claiming that the toymaker’s OMG dolls, part of its LOL Surprise range, had copied the band's name, image and trade dress.

In response, MGA sued the pop stars in 2021 to enforce its trademark rights, prompting the band to countersue.

Banned testimony

During the trial, the judge granted MGA’s motion in limine that a certain testimony from one of OMG Girlz’ witnesses was improper and unfairly prejudicial.

This concerned Moniece Campbell’s declaration that she “stopped purchasing” the OMG dolls “because [she] did not want to support a company that steals from African Americans and their ideas and profit off of it and don’t give African Americans the profit” and how the OMG dolls were “stealing [OMG Girlz’] likeness and making money off it, [which] happens every day in the Black community”.

Filing for a retrial, MGA’s lawyers stated that those acting for OMG Girlz “intentionally violated the court’s order and deliberately included Campbell’s cultural appropriation testimony in the deposition clips they played to the jury” and that this inclusion had “irreparably tainted the fairness of this trial”.

An MGA spokesperson said the company was “disappointed that the trial was cut short” but was looking forward to “vindicating our rights in the next trial”, as reported by Reuters. WIPR has contacted representatives for OMG Girlz for a comment.

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