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USD Professor Delves Into Barbie's Decade-Long Fight Against Bratz

The book cover for "You Don't Own Me" by Orly Lobel.
W.W. Norton & Co.
The book cover for "You Don't Own Me" by Orly Lobel.
USD Professor Delves Into Barbie's Decade-Long Fight Against Bratz
USD Professor Delves Into Barbie's Decade-Long Fight Against Bratz GUEST: Orly Lobel, author, "You Don't Own Me"

The Barbie doll was the undisputed queen of girls toys for decades until something called Bratz appeared in. They were more ethnically diverse and moved away from the impossible Barbie figure. It set off a legal battle. University of San Diego law professor Orly Lobel wrote about it in her book, "You Don't Own Me", how How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark Side. She recently spoke with Michael Lipkin.Muss people are pretty familiar with Barbie dolls. But let's refresh, what were Bratz?Bratz dolls were the nemesis of Barbie. Barbie was for decades the one doll in the market and she was white and inevitably perfect. Disproportionate and giving a lot of women a lot of body image issues. Suddenly, Bratz came in the market. They were edgier, they were multiethnic, and their body was a little more realistic to fit what we really are.Carter Bryant was a clothing designer for Mattel, the makers of Barbie. What led him to create Bratz?He was kind of a shy, dreamy designer who taken a job at Mattel, but really had a passion to invent and create new things, to be artistic and he got very disappointed by the culture at Mattel by just changing Barbie stress Cavalier -- dress color every few months. He looked out to the world, went away from everything that he sees as plastic and a Southern California and goes away for some leave time in the Midwest and suddenly he is inspired.As the dolls come to market, there are some documents for Mattel executives that you quote in the book. Someone writes that this is a war and sides must be taken. RB stands for good, all others stand for evil. Eventually sue the makers of Bratz. The argument seems to be that Carter Bryant was working for us for part of the time when he came up with the idea for Bratz dolls and he signed a contract. And he said that if you come up with an idea when you work with us, the idea is hours.That's right. That is why this is such an interesting over one decade battle that happened in Southern California. It is relic to -- relevant not only to the toy and entertainment industry, but anyone who is ever worked for somebody, we are seeing a big expansion in the kinds of contracts that we all sign that have become standard, generic and are interpreted as really taking over all of the employees ideas, future attentional, future opportunities. They are worded as non-competes. As innovation assignments. As proprietary information, and all of them operate together to in fact mean that it is very hard to leave once employer and to start off, either with a competitor, or on your own.The case it is at the center of the book gets pretty complicated. There are two trials and there are appeals of each of those trials. Some part of it is actually working its way through the courts right now. Now, more than a decade after it has been filed, can we say one side one -- won?We are at a point where we have seen a lot of expansion of how we define copyright. It last very long and it is defined in the very broad way. We have seen an expansion in their use. Sort of as perversely creating barriers to invention, rather than promoting that. I think what we are seeing now is the pushback. One of the very colorful characters that you will meets in the book is Judge Kaczynski,, with the Knights of -- Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He is in outspoken judge was been important in a lot of our legal decisions in many peers pillars of law. You see him putting order in all of this and putting some of these actors in place when they want to use the law instead of compete on a level playing grounds and fair.He writes a central opinion in this case. What is his philosophy about intellectual property and has that opinion been influential in cases that have come after this Barbie case?Certainly so. Judge Kaczynski has been very influential in a series of very colorful decisions about the iconic shows and characters that we know so well. Things like Barbie and some movies. If you think about "Star Wars", can you go into behaviors like Disney's suing a film producer that wants to do a parody of "Star Wars", but a pornographic version of "Star Wars". Can you do that? Judge Kaczynski is certainly outspoken about him being on the side of let's create more culture. Let's allow people to use and build upon what we already have, to create more art. We should limit the reach of copyright. We should expand what we call fair use, where anything that is more transformative and is not directly competing, but rather changing what it is building upon should be allowed. He gets quite mad when he sees his repeat actors that are dominant conglomerations in the market who are going after people who want to challenge or create something new.You have a natch and -- personal connection to Barbie because you are in part of a study about playing with Barbie dolls.She taped me playing with Barbie dolls and then in a separate tape, playing with more boy stereotypical toys like trucks and the basketball. She ran the studies all over the world. I was only 7 years old and I became this inadvertently, a critic of the toy industry very early on. She was trying to think about what we play with and how it really affects how we are perceived by society. Her insights, which have been published all over the world have been really important. These gendered toys and these gendered games that we play have real effect and a lot of times, to the detriment of little girls that are directed to, what is now called in the retail industry the pink shelf that Mattel has and other toy stores and toy makers have. These are the pink girl toys and let's market them for girls. I very much am an advocate of mixing it up and being a little bit more gender-neutral and definitely for girls, I think it is so important to have more access to toys that teach more about engineering and math and strategy.That was "You Don't Own Me" author Orly Lobel speaking with producer Michael Lipkin.

Barbie was the undisputed queen of girls' toys for decades, until Bratz dolls arrived in 2001. Bratz were more ethnically diverse than Barbie and moved away from the impossibly-proportioned Barbie figure. They quickly became a top-seller and set off a decade-long legal battle worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Barbie-maker Mattel argued that it owned the rights to Bratz because its creator Carter Bryant had worked for Mattel when he came up with the ideas behind Bratz. Bryant had signed away the rights to any inventions he came up with "at any time in his employment" as part of his standard employment contract.

University of San Diego law professor Orly Lobel chronicles the toy titans' fight in her new book, "You Don't Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark Side." She argued the American legal system is an outlier in the world, with many other countries requiring companies to give some type of reward to employees who come up with new ideas.

"As increasingly is the case among leading brands across all industries, the fights in the toy industry are now focused on controlling existing ideas rather than creating news ones," Lobel wrote. "The battle hymn for market dominance demands we ask: Does the current hyper-protection of intellectual property promote more innovation or perversely impede it?"

Lobel joins KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday with more on her research into how the Barbie case is shaping current law.

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