Dumb Starbucks and Parody in Trademark Law
In February, a coffee shop called “Dumb Starbucks” popped up in Los Angeles to serve free coffee. Its use of the Starbucks name, coffee, and logo was identical, only inserting the word “Dumb” next to the Starbucks trademark name and siren logo to differentiate it from the original. On the inside counter, flyers claimed that the coffee shop was protected from legal recourse by a parody defense grounded in trademark law. While Starbucks was smart to not take the initial bait, the coffee shop was later closed down by the Los Angeles County Health Department for operating without a permit. A Comedy Central television comedian, Nathan Fielder, later admitted to being responsible for the publicity stunt, and no legal action came of it.
Despite the lack of legal action, however, it is unclear whether Fielder could have successfully claimed parody as a complete defense to trademark infringement if Starbucks had pursued legal action against the comedian.
The elements of parody are: 1. An original host work; 2. The original host work must be famous/and or known to the particular target audience; 3. The creator of the derivative work (the parody) must take only so much of the original work as necessary to bring to mind the original host work; and 4. The derivative work that conjures up the famous host work must result in a new and original work. Since the store has been closed, we will likely never know how this would have been determined.
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