The Corporate Law Group

Dumb Starbucks

25Somebody is having fun at Starbucks expense. There have been several stories recently about over the top cease and desist letters sent out by lawyers-without-borders to mom and pop shops asking them to quit passing off their phony products as genuine even through you’d have to have the IQ of a CEO to think anyone would mistake the two. A Los Feliz coffee shop branded as “Dumb Starbucks” appeared out of nowhere in early 2014 with only a few tables, a drip coffee pot and an espresso maker with no steam wand. An FAQ board said, “Although we are a fully functioning coffee shop, for legal reasons Dumb Starbucks needs to be characterized as performance art.” They seemed to be selling a lot of “art”, since several pictures exhibit quite a long line. Reports were that a Comedy Central comedian named Nathan Fielder was responsible. Fielder says he actually loves Starbucks but had to add “dumb” to invoke fair use under copyright law. Of course fair use is a copyright doctrine and the Starbucks logo and name are trademarked. And Fielder says that he wants to sell coffee, which would seem to be neither parody nor art. But, of course, no one would ever mistake Dumb Starbucks for the real thing since it is clear in the name that it is not Starbucks. Although it may be argued that Fielder is passing off. Starbucks said that it was aware that it was not a Starbucks location, and was, “Looking into it,” and that, “While we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark.” Are we about to see cars called NOT Fords, and cell phones called NOT iPhones? Maybe we can expect more letters from lawyers-without-borders.

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