‘Dumb Starbucks’ Opens In L.A., But For How Long?

UPDATE: Starbucks has issued an official statement saying that Dumb Starbucks can not use the coffee chain’s name.

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Over the weekend, Dumb Starbucks, a coffee shop using virtually identical branding and logos to that of coffee colossus Starbucks opened up in Los Angeles. Even though on every level it operates as just another java joint, the operators believe (or at least claim to believe) that they can use the Starbucks name by stating that the entire store is a parody.

From an FAQ sheet handed out to people curious about the store’s name and branding:

“By adding the word ‘dumb’, we are technically ‘making fun’ of Starbucks, which allows us to use their trademarks under a law known as ‘fair use’. Fair use is a doctrine that permits use of copyrighted material in a parodical work without permission from the rights holder. It’s the same law that allows Weird Al Yankovic to use the music from Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ in his parody song ‘Eat It”.

The owners of the business may be shooting themselves in the feet with a later statement in this same FAQ. In response to the question, “Are you saying Starbucks is dumb?” they write, “Not at all. In fact, we love Starbucks and look up to them as role models. Unfortunately, the only way to use their intellectual property under fair use is if we are making fun of them. So the word ‘dumb’ comes out of necessity, not enmity.”

Starbucks has so far only said that it’s “looking into” the matter, but given that the coffee chain spent the better part of a decade trying — but failing — to stop a small New Hampshire coffee company from selling a dark roast dubbed “Charbucks,” we imagine a legal letter is on the way to this one-off coffee shop.

In the Charbucks case, the name was a direct parody both of the Starbucks name and of its reputation for very darkly roasted coffee blends. The makers of Charbucks also did not attempt to brand their product using the Starbucks logo or font, so the court repeatedly held that the Charbucks name was “not likely to impair the distinctiveness of the famous Starbucks marks.”

Here are some photos from inside the Dumb Starbucks:

Dumb CDs not for sale.

A photo posted by Devin Faraci (@baddevin) on

Dumb Starbucks cups.

A photo posted by Devin Faraci (@baddevin) on

L.A.’s ‘Dumb Starbucks’ Imitates the Real Thing [WSJ.com]

A Mysterious New Coffee Shop Called ‘Dumb Starbucks’ Is Baffling Los Angeles [SFgate.com]

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  1. CzarChasm says:

    Yea, this place is screwed, they are going to be sued back into the dark ages.

  2. SingleMaltGeek says:

    Generally if you’re in the same business (or any at all) you need to be a LOT less derivative than this…like Charbucks, that was a much more subtle jab, having none of the same visual elements. If you want to get away with really satirizing something, you should not be in the same line of business as the company you’re satirizing, you should stick to writing/filming/printing your satire.

    • ResNullum says:

      Is that why my Hairy Queen restaurant chain never took off?

      • SingleMaltGeek says:

        No, since you were in a completely different industry you were on solid legal ground, but I warned you that your oddly designed penis logo looked too much like a sugar cone with a scoop of coffee ice cream on it!

  3. SirJanes says:

    One news story this morning conjectured it might be artwork, no business intended.

    Did this hypothesis fall through?

    • CzarChasm says:

      I suppose this could be performance art, in which case, it probably would be protected. What this article does not mention, that would be really, really important to the discussion, is whether or not this store is making any money. What I read from another article is that they are giving away the coffee for free.

    • Xenotaku says:

      I know that yesterday they were selling drinks, because my local news had a report on it (since Starbucks is local to us), and their affiliated station had interviews with customers.

  4. icanhazcommentz says:

    Dumb Starbucks doesn’t have nearly as strong a case as cartoonist Kieron Dwyer did when he created his “Consumer Whore” parody logo:

    http://cbldf.org/about-us/case-files/cbldf-case-files/dwyer/

    http://kierondwyer.com/LCD/GREED.htm

    http://thomaspluck.com/2010/11/18/starbucks-consumer-whore/