‘Dumb Starbucks’ parody shuts down but debate over trademark law & parody continues

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I followed this story as it developed over the past week – the author here did a great job summarizing the events thus far.

Here is my response (see original article below):

On the discussion of who has the stronger argument, it gets interesting. First there is the First Amendment and parody vs trademark law. Followed by, dilution by blurring or tarnishment.

The trademark protection argument is weak because it hinges upon the “the likelihood” of consumer confusion. I find it difficult to believe that anyone here is confused. The parody literally attached the word “dumb” to Starbucks name. No one would reasonably believe the two stores are related.

Fielder also has a decent argument against dilution by blurring and tarnishment with §1125(c)(3) of the Lanham Act. In short, the section specifically permits for the parodying of the goods or services of a mark owner. While it protects against injury to the good will and reputation of the mark, here I do not believe Starbucks has suffered much harm. It was fairly clear the act was a prank; it was funny, and the coffee was free!

Over time, if the parody were to remain open (or expand), and a correlation was made with a decline in the public’s perception of Starbucks, then perhaps, an argument may be made for the good will and reputation of Starbucks’ mark. Otherwise, I think it may be considered fair game.

Either way, it will be exciting to see what comes next in this ‘kerfuffle’!

Tonya M. Evans

By Professor Tonya M. Evans

dumbstarbucks-cupsOn February 9th, The Huff Post and other media outlets reported the grand opening of a store in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, “Dumb Starbucks”. The clever prankish parody even caught the attention of Forbes:

‘Although it looks like Starbucks, smells like Starbucks and even acts like Starbucks (the super-friendly baristas asking for your name were hired off Craigslist), the whole thing is an elaborate goof on Starbucks culture. A list of Frequently Asked Questions posted on premises compared the place to Weird Al Yankovic’s homage to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Dumb Starbucks, you see, is the “Eat It” of $6 coffee drinks.’ Source: Forbes.com

Amazingly, people stood in line for hours for the Dumb Starbucks java, which reportedly was whatever the local grocery store had on hand for the few days Dumb Starbucks remained open. The locals and media alike seemed to get…

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