A new kind of Starbucks opened up last week in Los Feliz, Los Angeles. The store perfectly mimics an actual Starbucks, from the menu to the décor to the iconic Starbuck’s coffee cups. The store used the same green awning and round mermaid logo as famous coffee franchise, the only difference is that they have placed the word "Dumb" in large letters above the word Starbucks. Largely speculated to be a publicity stunt, the Dumb Starbucks owner was eventually revealed to be comedy personality Nathan Fielder. Fielder appeared publicly at the Dumb Starbuck’s Los Angeles location to announce the opening of a second store in Brooklyn.
However, there are a number of people who haven’t found this “dumb” joke quite so funny. Ranking high among the many non-fans is the Los Angeles County Health Department. Health inspectors shut the shop down on Monday, just days after it had opened. Apparently, the shop was operating without a valid health permit.
However, even if the Health Department hadn’t have gotten involved it isn’t too likely that the store would have stayed open for much longer. The Starbucks franchise is known for aggressively pursuing knockoffs. For example, Starbucks took legal action against a small, family-owned New Hampshire coffee shop known as “Charbucks.” After a lengthy legal battle that dragged on for over a decade, a federal appeal court eventually ruled the store could continue selling its own line of Charbucks coffee, explaining that Charbucks was "only weakly associated with the minimally similar" Starbucks trademark.
It is still unclear whether Starbucks will take any legal action in this case. “We are evaluating next steps and while we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark,” a recent Starbucks e-mail regarding the issue explains. Lawyers who specialize in trademark and copyright issues say legal precedents on the issue don’t offer clear-cut answers. Trademark law is intended to protect consumers from confusion while copyright law protects authors of creative works. The Starbucks logo design is protectable under both trademark and copyright law, so both do come into play. Still, many feel that Starbucks won’t pursue legal action, as Dumb Starbucks was an obvious parody. In other words, consumers are likely to recognize this as a spoof on the trademark, which means it wouldn’t be construed as an infringement.
Many say Fiedler executed the prank well. Dumb Starbucks opened on Friday evening, after courts were closed for the weekend. The store had a substantial amount of time to gain hype before the inevitable shutdown, which came swiftly on Monday. The store gained quite a number of fans across social media, including 8,000 likes on Facebook. Many report that the stunt will be used in the second season of Fiedler’s upcoming show.