A new coffee shop mocking Starbucks opened in Los Angeles in early February and quickly gained nationwide attention. The store looks identical to the typical Starbucks, but with the exception of the word “dumb” prefixed to the title and menu items.

Dumb Starbucks is not affiliated with Starbucks Corporation, and the company claims that their use of Starbucks’ trademark and logos is “fair use” because it is “making fun” of Starbucks.

The store’s FAQ sheet states the following:

Is this a Starbucks?
No. Dumb Starbucks is not affiliated in any way with Starbucks Corporation. We are simply using their name and logo for marketing purposes.
How is that legal?
Short answer – parody law.
Can you elaborate?
Of course. 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.” Fair use is a doctrine that permits the use of copyrighted material in a parodical work without permission from the rights holder. It’s the same law that allows Weird Al Yankovic to use the music from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” in his parody song “Eat It.”
So this is a real business?
Yes it is. Although we are a fully functioning coffee shop, for legal reasons Dumb Starbucks needs to be categorized as a work of parody art. So, in the eyes of the law, our “coffee shop” is actually an art gallery and the “coffee” you’re buying is considered the art. But that’s for our lawyers to worry about. All you need to do is enjoy our delicious coffee.
Are you saying Starbucks is dumb?
Not at all. In fact, we love Starbucks and look up to them as role models. Unfortunately, the only way to use their intellectual property under fair use is if we are making fun of them. So, the “dumb” comes out of necessity, not enmity.https://twitter.com/benpankonin/status/432554620515131392/photo/1

A spokesperson for Starbucks stated that “while we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark.”

Dumb Starbucks’ defense is debatable. A trademark is a symbol that is used “to identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods, even if that source is unknown.” 15 U.S.C. § 1127. Trademark fair use allows a non-owner of a mark to “nominatively” name and display the mark for the purpose of talking about it, in comparative advertising and for parody.

Here, Dumb Starbucks uses the exact Starbucks name and logo, but with the addition of “Dumb” in the prefix. However, the protected name and logo are used on numerous items throughout the store. Further, Starbucks’ designs, such as the store’s overall look, can also be protected as a trade dress under the Lanham Act. Dumb Starbucks resembles an actual Starbucks and its overall feel. Even the same cups and aprons are used. Therefore, it is debatable whether a consumer will confuse Dumb Starbucks’ marks for Starbucks’ protected marks.

Dumb Starbucks’ defense, however, may never be fully litigated. Despite Dumb Starbucks’ claim that it is an art gallery and not subject to permits, health inspectors disagreed and recently shut down the store. This store may have been just a social media experiment brought about by Nathan Fielder, the person behind Dumb Starbucks and host of the Comedy Central show “Nathan For You.” Fielder is known for his social media experiments and this may have been one of them. As demonstrated by the media attention it generated, Fielder may have achieved his purpose. While it is uncertain whether Dumb Starbucks will be revived, this case remains puzzling and a debate within the intellectual property community.