Copyright Law Updates | New Judicial Opinions
January 26, 2009
CA Court Enjoins Bratz Maker from Manufacturing and Selling Dolls
Bryant v. Mattel
No. 04-9049, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, 12/3/2008
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has issued an order of injunction that permanently enjoined Bratz doll-maker MGA Entertainment Inc. ("MGA") from manufacturing and selling its controversial toy products. In its order, the district court ordered MGA to immediately stop the manufacture and sales of the Bratz lines, and deliver all of its Bratz merchandise to its rival Mattel, Inc. “Mattel”), the maker of Barbie doll. A separate order declared that Mattel owns all right and title, including all copyrights, to the Bratz-related works that former Mattel employee Carter Bryant conceived or created while employed by Mattel, as found by the jury.
In granting Mattel’s motion, the district court held, “Factually, the hardship on MGA weighs very heavily upon the court.” But the district court, “in the final analysis, must afford this very little, if any, weight.” The district court further wrote that while there was a “strong economic interest” in keeping a profitable company healthy during challenging economic times, “there is also a strong public interest in enforcing copyright laws.”
By way of background, the jury on July 17, 2008 found that Bryant conceptualized the Bratz character and name while he was still under contract with Mattel. In that earlier verdict, the jury specifically found that Bryant made most of the first sketches of the Bratz characters while he was employed by Mattel in 1999 and 2000, and that Mattel owned most of Bryant’s Bratz drawings, including the three-dimensional prototypes he made for MGA. The jury also found that that MGA and Larian were liable for intentional interference with Bryant’s Mattel contract. The jury was hung on the issue whether Mattel owned four of Bryant’s original drawings from a spiral notebook that MGA argued the designer made while he was away from Mattel.
At trial, Mattel, represented by Quinn Emanuel Oliver Urquhart & Hedges, argued that MGA unlawfully took the idea for Bratz dolls from Bryant, because Bryant conceived the idea while still under contract with Mattel. MGA asserted that Bryant created Bratz in the time period between two stints at Mattel. Bryant had been a separate defendant in this case, but settled with Mattel on the eve of trial for an undisclosed amount.
MGA, represented by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, denied any wrongdoing, and, in a separate suit, accused Mattel of copying Bratz. In addition, MGA claimed that Mattel changed the design of its own “My Scene” dolls to more closely resemble the Bratz line and used its leverage with retailers to stifle competition. MGA and Bryant argued that the designer came up with the idea for the dolls and made the original sketches in 1998, while he was living with his parents in Missouri and not working for Mattel. They asserted that the sketches Bryant showed MGA in 2000 were transferred from originals he made in the summer of 1998 inspired by his watching kids walking from school, Steve Madden shoe ads in Seventeen magazine, and the cover of a Dixie Chicks album.
Mattel had demanded that it be paid by MGA $1 billion in profits and interests. It also asked that Larian should pay about $800 million for his participation in Bryant’s breach of his employment contract with Mattel.
On the other hand, MGA argued that it could only be liable for up to about $30 million because it had built the doll line’s value with distinguishing additions, branding and packaging.
The jury award of $90 million for contract damages is broken down as follows: $20 million against MGA and $10 million against Larian in each of three causes of action—intentional interference with contractual relations, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, and aiding and abetting breach of the duty of loyalty.
The amount of damages turned on the question of whether jurors believed MGA should only be held responsible for profits derived from the first four Bratz dolls—which came from Bryant’s drawings—or from all the subsequent Bratz dolls and related products.
Press reports indicated that MGA intends to ask the District Court to reduce the award to $30 million.
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