Property, intangible

a blog about ownership of intellectual property rights and its licensing

The Fight for Bratz – With a New Plaintiff

Just when you thought the Bratz story was over, it gets better. You know, the fight over the pouty-lipped dolls, where the designer, Carter Bryant, who was employed by Mattel off and on, claimed to have designed them while the relationship was off and then took the design to MGA Entertainment. Mattel sued MGA, won in a huge way, then lost in a huge way. I won’t even try to summarize it all because it’s way too confusing.

But now we have a new fight over Bratz.  Seems that designer Carter Bryant testified during the Mattel v. MGA Entertainment case that the Bratz doll design was inspired by a (disturbing) advertisement for Steve Madden shoes in Seventeen magazine, below:

I’ve extracted two of Carter Bryant’s drawings from the exhibits with the Complaint:

The full exhibit is here. I think it’s easy to see that Carter Bryant’s designs were quite close to the Seventeen magazine ad. Close enough that the photographer, Bernard Belair, has now sued both Mattel and MGA Entertainment (a wise choice, given the flip-flop decision in the district court) for copyright infringement.

This is what the dolls looked like after transformation from original design to commercial product:

What a fascinating question. Compare the proportions and pose of photo on the left of the Seventeen ad with the second Bryant sketch – they look quite similar to me.  But do Carter Bryant’s drawings infringe the photograph? And do the dolls?

Mattel has filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint against it on the basis that the copyright claim is time barred (it’s been ten years since the dolls were first designed) and the unjust enrichment claim is preempted by copyright. They seem like good arguments to me, but MGA won’t have such an easy out. This could be interesting.

Belair v MGA Entertainment, Inc.
, No. 09-CIV-8870 (SAS) (S.D.N.Y.)

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One response to “The Fight for Bratz – With a New Plaintiff”

  1. I don’t think the sketch or the dolls infringe Bernard Belair’s photo-illustration at all.

    Give me a break. They are cartoon figures with big heads and big feet.