“Dumb Starbucks” akin to Weird Al Yankovic’s use of parody under the Fair Use Doctrine?????

“Dumb Starbucks” akin to Weird Al Yankovic’s use of parody under the Fair Use Doctrine?????

By now, we’ve all heard of “Dumb Starbucks,” the pop up, so called “parody” coffee shop that opened in Los Feliz, claiming to have the right to use the Starbucks trademark to sell coffee.  A Viacom spokesperson (parent company to Comedy Central, the network behind Nathan Fielder’s show responsible for the stunt) is quoted as saying “[t]he episode relating to ‘Dumb Starbucks’ constitutes protected free
expression,” apparently referring to the fair use exception to US Copyright Law.  We can rest assured that there is no way, no how any lawyer would ignore the trademark issue at hand, instead focusing on the copyright issue (which alone is a tenuous argument–that the stunt is a social commentary allowable under copyright law).  Apparently, there is a FAQ issued by ‘Dumb Starbucks’ that reads:

“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.”” 

Hmm.  So it’s ok to use another company’s trademark under a law that permits use of copyrighted material? Are you sure it’s Starbucks you want to call dumb?  Please tell me this isn’t real.

(P.S., even Weird Al gets permission–though he probably doesn’t have to).

The FAQ then goes on to admit it is an actual business:  “Although we are a fully functioning coffee shop, Dumb Starbucks needs to be categorized as a work of parody art.  So, in the eyes of the law, our “coffee shop” is actually an art gallery and the “coffee” you’re buying is considered the art.”  Oh my gosh I LOVE THIS!  But even better, “…that’s for our lawyers to worry about.  All you need to do is enjoy our delicious coffee.”  Anyone else worried? ( I say with a gleeful chuckle :-))

Starbucks, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE sue so I can read about what happens in court.  This is awesome.  The coffee may or may not be art, but the arguments made here are certainly creative.  That creativity is one of my favorite parts of practicing law.  Us lawyers are just as creative as the artists we represent.

It may not even matter because Dumb Starbucks has been shut down for operating without a license (See http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/dumb-starbucks-shut-down-by-679155).  Apparently the store was selling pastries bought at Vons (another lawsuit on the horizon?).

Thoughts?

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