Who’s that girl? Lucianne Walkowicz thinks she knows the answer. That’s why the renowned astronomer is posing the question to Mattel’s American Girl toymakers—in court.
Walkowicz claims the Wisconsin-based American Girl company stole her likeness to create its astronaut doll. The doll entered the market as American Girl’s “2018 Girl of the Year.”
While Walkowicz studies the stars, the doll character travels among them, according to the fictional book that comes with the plaything’s package. The doll bears the name Luciana Vega. She also sports a bright purple streak in her dark hair and sparkly silver shoes, referred to as “holographic.” She’s described as “an aspiring astronaut ready to take the next giant leap to Mars.”
Lucianne/Luciana—coincidence? Walkowicz thinks not. The similarities don’t stop there.
Walkowicz works at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. She has spent much of her career collaborating with NASA. She is also a TED senior fellow. TED stands for “technology, entertainment, design.” The TED organization promotes global conferences and distributes videos of speakers sharing knowledge and applications from their areas of expertise. Walkowicz has given numerous TED Talks and has been quoted in or interviewed for many more. Her name and her appearance—which includes streaked blue hair and sparkly, holographic sneakers—are well known to those who closely follow star stuff. While most of her recent work with NASA’s Kepler project has focused on ethical exploration of Mars, she has also lectured on her studies of the star named Vega.
Mars, shoes, Vega, hair, and first-name similarity all aligning unintentionally is a phenomenon of astronomical unlikelihood, Walkowicz and her attorney think. They filed a federal trademark lawsuit in Madison, Wisconsin, in April. The professional stargazer wants American Girl and Mattel to stop selling the Luciana Vega doll.
“The defendants used the name and likeness of Lucianne, a well-known figure in astronomy, space, and STEM, who particularly studied the star Vega, in conjunction with the American Girl doll Luciana Vega without obtaining her authorization,” the lawsuit states.
American Girl said in a statement that it “takes great pride in creating original characters for girls. We take any allegations to the contrary extremely seriously and intend to defend the case vigorously.”
Walkowicz’s attorney, Charles Mudd, Jr., says discussions with Mattel have been unproductive. He says there’s no defense for using Walkowicz’s likeness without her approval.