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Parody For YouOp-Ed by James R Euscher for Salem-News.com
Small sheets of paper distributed in the store stated: “How is it legal? So is this a real business? Are you saying Starbucks is dumb?”
(LOS ANGELES) - On the weekend of Feb. 8 through 9, a coffee shop set up in the Los Angeles area had people speculating about whether Starbucks was starting a new trend. Though short and sweet, “Dumb Starbucks” was started up as a comedy act for comedian Nathan Fielder, who stars in a television series, Nathan for You. As the popularity grew for this new coffee shop, people wanted to satisfy their curiosity.
Small sheets of paper distributed in the store stated: “How is it legal? So is this a real business? Are you saying Starbucks is dumb?” are the questions that would help people understand what was happening.
Though Fielder had the idea of “Dumb Starbucks Coffee” prearranged, this parody of Starbucks would only last the weekend. The Los Angeles Health Department would shut down “Dumb Starbucks” because it did not have a health permit.
Citizens of the Los Angeles area had also been interested in how Fielder could do this legally. “Dumb Starbucks Coffee” set up as an art gallery, and the coffee served was considered art. They would offer drinks to people for free, so they would not infringe on Copyright Law.
The use of the Starbucks trademark brewed up controversy among coffee drinkers. People were especially curious about the new parody that they waited in line for two hours. Customers had their own opinions about the parody, but that was different from that of Starbucks. A spokesman for Starbucks stated, “While we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark.”
While Starbucks had encounters with imitators before, they seemed casual about this new one that Fielder created.
Parody is allowed under the “fair use doctrine” of the federal Copyright Law as a means to ridicule or mock a trademarked material. A “Dumb Starbucks Coffee” has admitted to using a loophole for the parody of the fair use doctrine. But will Fielder and his short-lived “Dumb Starbucks Coffee” be protected as parody under the fair use doctrine? Since he benefits from advertising his name to the public, the legal result of the parody is uncertain.
The fair use doctrine permits a person or company to use trademarked material, so Fielder can use the very same name, logo and products from Starbucks’ stores. People now know that Fielder turned the fair use doctrine to use the Starbucks name and imitate the store. The parody under the fair use doctrine protect only to a certain extent.
The intention behind “Dumb Starbucks Coffee” may be for a reason unprotected under the fair use doctrine. Fielder had considered opening another “Dumb Starbuck Coffee” in New York.
But would it be worthwhile?
It could possibly ruin his reputation or draw more attraction from the Starbucks enterprise. Only time will tell for this young comedian.
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