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: