Story by Adam Ebel
Some lighthearted mischief is all well and good, but few would be willing to make a full, and fake, business out of it.
Dumb Starbucks was briefly opened in California this past week as a clear imitation of the popular café chain Starbucks.
After getting inside, people would find products such as “Dumb Espresso”, or “Dumb Jazz Essentials” or any other Starbucks staple simply with the word “Dumb” in front of it.
Under law, it was technically a parody, thus not copyright infringement. As stated in the Copyright Act of 1976: “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism…is not an infringement of copyright.”
“It makes sense,” said law, politics and society major Ryan Skajewski. “Parody is a form of criticism, review and a fact of life, and will inevitably have material from its subject.”
Despite the dubitable legal fair use of the Starbucks Trademark, or because of it, Dumb Starbucks piqued a lot of interest.
Everyone was fairly certain that “Dumb Starbucks” was eventually going to get shut down, but no one was entirely sure as to who opened the Art Gallery or why.
Some people speculated that it was a protest against corporatism, others that it was in fact an indirect promotion of Starbucks.
As it turns out, the café was, as it claimed, a parody.
The comedian, Nathan Fielder, opened the shop to be a part of his show “Nathan For You” in which he would give nonsensical advice to businesses, often confusing all involved.
“I love ‘Nathan For You,’” says Ethan Parafink, a first-year journalism student. “He trolls people for a living… It’s a joke, but people think it’s real. Hilarious.”
Nathan is infamous for stunts that require extraordinarily bizarre interactions in between customers and vendors, usually preventing the transaction from properly occurring, or either party benefiting from it.
This particular advice, however, seems fairly good. This Art Gallery received quite a bit of business, as people lined up along the street.
“I would go,” said Alicia Anderson, a first year business student. “It’s something different.”
There were very few profits, however, as the coffee was free. This did not alleviate the concern from Starbucks, well known for their vehement defense of their trademark, who responded, “We are evaluating next steps and while we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark.”
As it was an art gallery, and not actually licensed to sell coffee, the cups of coffee were technically pieces of art, even selling on Ebay at hundreds of dollars.
Nathan Fielder, overwhelmed by either the success of the business or the viral snapshots of coffee, announced that he was looking to open a new branch in Brooklyn, to continue expanding the business and pursue the American Dream.
The FDA disagreed, asserting that the art pieces sold at Dumb Starbucks were simply unlicensed coffee. Nathan Fielder did not press the issue to court and gracefully agreed shut down the Art Gallery.
The irony, it seems, did not improve the taste, as many reviews identified the coffee as “watery,” “bitter” and “not what I ordered.” Regardless of the close of the famous Dumb Starbucks, Nathan Fielders’ “Nathan For You” is green lit for another season this summer.