"Dumb Starbucks" Coffee Store Opens in CaliforniaS

It seems like every other day some dumb Starbucks or other is opening up on every block, but slightly rarer is an actual Dumb Starbucks. That's the name behind a new coffee shop in the Los Feliz neighborhood of L.A. that opened this weekend.

The store, as Southern California Public Radio reported, is nearly identical to a normal Starbucks, from its appearance, to its menu options, to its store design, but with one distinguishing characteristic: it's specifically "Dumb," rather than implicitly so. On the menu are Dumb Espresso, Dumb Iced Coffee, and Dumb Frappuccinos.

The odds are that this is some sort of dumb viral marketing stunt or other, and the fact that Dan Harmon of Community, and Rainn Wilson were among some of the first to post about it on social media suggests a dumb TV show angle. Further casting suspicion are the dumb store's dumb disclaimers on their dumb FAQ, where they qualify themselves as a work of parody art in order to circumvent the very, very likely trademark infringement suit they could be subject to.

"Dumb Starbucks" Coffee Store Opens in CaliforniaS

Actually it's not the same law Weird Al uses, technically. That falls under copyright. Brand logos are trademarked. While there are protections for fair use and parody under both copyright and trademark law, and courts have allowed for a widely varying degree of leeway depending on the circumstances, the central issue in most infringement cases revolves around the potential for confusion in the market, and the similarity to the original product in question. As an overview from the Harvard Law School explains regarding trademark parody:

Finally, certain parodies of trademarks may be permissible if they are not too directly tied to commercial use. The basic idea here is that artistic and editorial parodies of trademarks serve a valuable critical function, and that this critical function is entitled to some degree of First Amendment protection. The courts have adopted different ways of incorporating such First Amendment interests into the analysis. For example, some courts have applied the general "likelihood of confusion" analysis, using the First Amendment as a factor in the analysis. Other courts have expressly balanced First Amendment considerations against the degree of likely confusion. Still other courts have held that the First Amendment effectively trumps trademark law, under certain circumstances. In general, however, the courts appear to be more sympathetic to the extent that parodies are less commercial, and less sympathetic to the extent that parodies involve commercial use of the mark.

It's that commercial use that may prove pivotal here; as of yesterday Dumb Starbucks were giving away their coffee for free. That may be the most un-Starbucks like thing ever. An actually successful company like them would never do something that dumb.

[Image via Rainn Wilson on Instagram]