“Dumb” Starbucks: “Dumb” Move?

By Wilson Lau

On February 8, 2014, a new coffee shop opened its doors in Los Feliz, Los Angeles. According to the general consensus, the shop’s coffee is “pretty awful,” yet people were willing wait in line for an hour to get a cup of coffee from the new shop. So, what kept these people in line? While curiosity may tempt a few people to try the new coffee shop, more likely than not, it has something to do with its name: Dumb Starbucks. According to patrons, Dumb Starbucks looked identical to the real Starbucks—that is, except for the word “dumb” placed in front of everything.

The mastermind behind Dumb Starbucks is Nathan Fielder, a comedian on Comedy Central. Fielder apparently believes that the real Starbucks cannot sue him because, by adding the word “dumb,” he is technically making fun of Starbucks, and parodies are protected under the Fair Use doctrine of trademark law. According to one court, “[a] parody must convey two simultaneous—and contradictory—messages: that it is the original, but also that it is not the original and is instead a parody.”[1] In the case of Dumb Starbucks, Fielder would most likely satisfy this court’s definition of parody because of the shop’s FAQs listed on the premises, describing the company as a parody. In addition to their FAQs, the baristas working at Dumb Starbucks also told patrons that they are not affiliated with the real Starbucks. Continue Reading