Risque Bratz dolls lose Barbie battle
by Kara G. Morrison - Dec. 9, 2008 12:00 AM The Arizona Republic
In the Barbie vs. Bratz war, Barbie has won - at least for now.
A federal judge ruled last week that Barbie parent Mattel, and not MGA Entertainment Inc., owns the legal rights to the popular Bratz doll.
The big-eyed, pouty-lipped dolls' future is now in flux, as Bratz could be yanked from store shelves by early next year. MGA has been ordered to stop manufacturing them.
Mattel has not said whether it intends to sell the dolls itself or let Barbie's younger, saucier, limelight-stealing cousin disappear altogether.
Chances of the latter have some local parents rejoicing.
"I do hope they kind of disappear," said Scottsdale mom Dawn Potosky, who already has a Bratz ban in place at her house. "My daughter is 7, and for the last three years, she has been asking for them."
Bratz proved controversial well before Mattel's four-year legal battle. While some kids gravitated to them as an edgier, more current version of Barbie, many moms dismissed Bratz as too provocative in appearance.
"They just seem like they're too mature for the age group that they're focused on," Potosky, 37, said. "I've had funny conversations with other moms, and they agree with me, so I don't know who's buying them."
Kate Tanner, owner of Kidstop, won't shed a tear if Bratz dolls faded away.
Tanner won't sell them at her Scottsdale toy store, saying the scantily clad dolls with excessive makeup aren't good role models. She's thrilled if the corporate fight means more wholesome dolls end up in little girls' hands, such as those from Les Cherie, Only Hearts Club and Groovy Girls, which she sells.
"Some of us find them (Bratz) absolutely horrible," Tanner said, pointing out a Bratz "mansion" that features a bar and a lighted dance floor.
The lawsuit stemmed not over dolls' taste level, but dollar signs. Mattel says its competitor was not entitled to the hundreds of millions of dollars the Bratz line earned.
The latest ruling stemmed from a July jury decision that Bratz creator Carter Bryant came up with the design and name while working for Mattel under an exclusivity contract. A second jury awarded Mattel $10 million for copyright infringement and $90 million for breach of contract.
"To be quite honest, I feel Mattel won a valid lawsuit," said Sam Powazek, owner of the Doll House and Toy Store in Scottsdale, who followed the case and thought it clear Mattel had paid for Bryant's work on the doll.
Still, Powazek and his wife, Sari, don't carry Barbie or Bratz at their specialty toy store. Both said they think Bratz inappropriate for young children, right down to their midriff-baring clothing, bold makeup and irreverent names.
"Parents want their children to be children," Sari Powazek said. "They don't want them to be grown up at 6 years old."
U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Larson will consider post-trial motions in February.
It could be a huge Christmas season for Bratz if fans' fear of their extinction results in a boost in sales, though it's difficult to believe such a successful doll could disappear.
Diana Epperson, a Mesa toy collector who works at KB Toys, said Bratz dolls have waned in popularity because they're for older girls. But she thinks the court ruling will make them more popular for fans and collectors.
"I haven't seen a huge run on the Bratz yet," she said, though she planned to buy a few for herself soon. "They'll probably be really collectible."
Tanner hopes kids aren't the last to be considered in this toy war.
"I think that's a shame that (money) is what this is all about, other than just making great toys for kids," Tanner said.