On January 25, 2023, a trial between rapper T.I. and doll maker MGA Entertainment Inc. ended in a mistrial after the judge determined that improper testimony regarding cultural appropriation was “incurably prejudicial” to the jury.
In December 2020, MGA Entertainment sued Clifford T.I. Harris, his wife Temeka “Tiny” Harris, and OMG Girlz seeking a Declaratory Judgement that its L.O.L. Surprise! OMG Dolls did not infringe on the IP rights of OMG Girlz, after receiving a cease and desist letter. Tiny started the former teen pop group OMG Girlz, which performed from 2009 to 2015, and T.I. and Tiny’s daughter was a member. T.I. and Tiny alleged misappropriation by the doll maker of the group’s name and likeness, trade dress infringement, and unfair competition, seeking economic damages and an order blocking further sale of the dolls.
The dolls were launched in 2019, with a look and style similar to the OMG Girlz in music videos and live performances. MGA Entertainment countered that MGA marketed dolls in 2005 with the same brightly colored hair and style, prior to OMG Girlz. In the trial, MGA’s lawyer alleged that OMG Girlz copied the dolls.
OMG Girlz also accused MGA Entertainment of cultural appropriation by using the dolls to misappropriate the likeness of black female artists. The claims regarding cultural appropriation were removed from the case and the judge barred testimony regarding that claim at the trial.
However, MGA’s attorney argued that the jury heard inadmissible, and inflammatory, testimony that the company steals, generally, from African Americans. MGA argued that this testimony about cultural appropriation destroyed their chance at a fair trial, and the judge agreed, granting a mistrial. The judge stated, “The prejudicial nature of this testimony accusing MGA of racist cultural appropriation cannot be understated. There is no unringing the bell, no way for MGA to counter the improper testimony and no instruction the Court can give to cure this problem.”
To move forward, the case can be re-tried in front of a new jury.