U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California

Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California recently dismissed toy manufacturer Tangle’s copyright and trade dress suit against fashion retailer Aritzia. The suit was brought over Aritzia’s use of sculptures resembling Tangle’s toys in its window displays. Judge White’s decision serves as a reminder that copyright protection only extends to works that have been “fixed” in a tangible medium of expression; an artist’s “[s]tyle, no matter how creative, is an idea, and is not protectable by copyright.” Tangle Inc. v. Aritzia, Inc.

Imagine you are an investor and you decide to file a lawsuit after a company that you invest in suffers a stock drop. When you get to the courthouse, you find that you are the first person to file a federal securities class action on these facts. However, because of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA), the district court chooses another party to be “lead plaintiff” in the litigation. Under the control of that lead plaintiff, the court dismisses the case prior to class certification, and you want to appeal that decision. Do you have standing? Your name is in the case caption for the active complaint. You were, in fact, the very first plaintiff in this action. But you aren’t the lead plaintiff anymore.