I seem to remember reading about the Bratz dolls a year or so ago — the designer tried to get Mattel interested in the line, but with their traditional and long-standing emphasis on the All American Breasts of Barbie, they passed. So, the designer went elsewhere, and despite some initial resistance, the line of dolls caught fire and began to threaten Miss Barbie herself. The Bratz dolls, who look to be of indeterminate ethnic origin — but definitely not Anglo-Saxon — started to crowd out the tall white chick with pointy tits. Do we have a metaphor for immigration attitudes (and policies) here or what?
The designer should have gotten Mattel to sign away their rights after passing on his idea, though I suspect Mattel would not have done so unless they had to. Just like record companies will often pass on an artist’s record and then prohibit anyone else from releasing it, they are scared of both being shown up and possible competition. Forget the lip service that competition is good for business — business will squash any competition if it has half a chance. Maybe the designer got a verbal go-ahead from someone at Mattel to seek interest elsewhere; maybe he thought they’d forget about his drawings; or maybe he thought they wouldn’t go so far as to claim the rights based on the drawings — but he didn’t get a proper release, so legally he’s fucked. Though it doesn’t seem fair.
It seems to me that it would be nice if there were a fairer attitude towards passed-over creations. What if the law said this: if a company like Mattel turned down his drawings, then they would automatically revert back to him after some period of time — a couple of years, for example. Long enough for Mattel to reconsider, given an always-changing marketplace, but short enough that the creation, whatever it is, might still be relevant. This could apply to recording artists, screenwriters, designers, authors and photographers — where the same kind of proprietary nastiness happens all the time.
-- David Byrne, "Mattel, Bratz and Creative Rights"