By Jillian Stanphill, Guest Writer
When it comes to creating a parody company based on a real corporation, Starbucks isn’t the company to mess with.
Recently, a coffee shop opened in the Los Angeles area called “Dumb Starbucks.” Every menu item mirrored that of Starbucks, simply with the addition of ‘dumb’ in front of the drink. The logo and attire of employees followed suit.
The operator, comedian Nathan Fielder, claimed that by simply adding ‘dumb’ to the title, his small business just barely falls under the requirements for fair use or parody law. This would mean that Starbucks would have no right to sue. Starbucks thinks otherwise.
Dumb Starbucks is not in any way affiliated with the original Starbucks Corporation. “We are evaluating next steps, and while we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark,” the Starbucks Corporation said in a statement released Feb. 10.
Almost as quickly as Dumb Starbucks opened, it was closed, lasting only four days. The Los Angeles County Health Department shut down the coffee shop because they were operating without a health permit.
Fielder said he still has big plans for his brain child and plans to open a new store in Brooklyn. His show “Nathan For You” airs on Comedy Central and focuses on marketing plans to expand small business clientele that are a little less than orthodox. His Twitter handle for his operation, @dumbstarbucks, has 15.5 thousand followers and only eight tweets.
Aaron J. Moss, a partner at Los Angeles law firm Greenberg Glusker, said Dumb Starbucks “is copyright and trademark infringement on steroids” and that “You can’t just take a famous logo and trade dress, call it dumb and use it to sell the very same products in competition with the company you’re making fun of.”
Even Jimmy Fallon was confused by Fielder’s reasoning behind his small business, or as Fielder called it on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” last Tuesday, an “art gallery.”
“The health department came and shut us down for selling coffee without a health permit.” Fielder said on Fallon’s show. “What they don’t understand is that, technically, legally speaking, we’re an art gallery. And the coffee we’re selling is considered the art.”
What Fielder doesn’t seem to understand is that the real issue facing him is possible jail time. Starbucks could sue and he could lose the case. The law of fair use that he is protecting himself with may not be on his side, but on that of Starbucks.
Previous United States Supreme Court cases about fair use have led to a specification in fair use. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the work being parodied cannot “merely ‘supersedes the objects’ of the original creation. Instead it adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.”
With this in mind, Dumb Starbucks may be able to win this case, as the lines of customers stretched around the block were not likely to have been caused by a desire for the product. More likely, people visited the coffee shop for the novelty of the experience, as many took pictures of Dumb Starbucks.
But this certainly doesn’t mean the new coffee shop adds anything new with a further purpose. It is a copycat replica of Starbucks with the addition of one adjective.
Currently, there are no Dumb Starbucks in operation and Fielder is attending health court for his health permit violations.