Dumb Starbucks: Is LA ‘parody’ coffee shop performance art, TV stunt or a legal dispute waiting to happen?

Owners insist use of notoriously litigious chain’s name, design and logo is completely legal

Adam Withnall
Monday 10 February 2014 10:54
The 'Dumb Starbucks' Twitter feed has already attracted thousands of followers - but will the store be around for long?
The 'Dumb Starbucks' Twitter feed has already attracted thousands of followers - but will the store be around for long?

An independent coffee shop has opened up in LA using the same name, logo and store layout as any branch of the Starbucks chain – with one crucial exception.

"Dumb Starbucks" has rocketed to social media fame by claiming to be completely legal under "parody law", with its mysterious owners insisting it makes "fair use" of the chain's famous brand.

While it hasn't exactly built up a reputation for making good coffee since it opened on Friday, the new café has had people queuing out the door for up to an hour because of growing speculation about its origins - and that it won't be around for long.

The two baristas working in the store have told local media they were hired via a Craiglist advert and know nothing about the controversy, but an FAQ sheet posted inside says it is a "fully functioning coffee shop" making fun of the international chain.

"Dumb Starbucks is not affiliated in any way with Starbucks Corporation. We are simply using their name and logo for marketing purposes," the shop claimed.

"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'."

Dumb Starbucks nonethless said the café needed to be "categorized as a work of parody art" for legal reasons only, and that they actually "look up to [Starbucks] as role models".

The chain is notoriously protective of its copyright, fuelling speculation that despite this professed admiration for Starbucks the new shop is indeed making some sort of satirical statement.

 Alternatively, some customers who subscribed to the hype and queued for a coffee on Saturday told CBS Los Angeles it was sure to turn out to be an elaborate TV stunt. One said: "This has to be a reality show. And I see a camera in the espresso machine."

The official Dumb Starbucks Twitter feed (@dumbstarbucks) has only posted four times since it was set up on Friday with the message: "We're now open for business! Visit us at 1802 Hillhurst Ave in Los Angeles."

It is clearly courting online attention, however - after following CNBC, Forbes, Harvard Business Review and business media outlet Fast Company, it has already received nearly 5,000 followers in return.

The real Starbucks has understandably taken notice. After its spokesperson told CBS it was "looking into" the matter, the local TV station warned: "Do not expect the Los Feliz location to be there for the long haul."

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