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Dumb Starbucks

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xBy Ben Fritz and Julie Jargon, The Wall Street Journal

 

Is "Dumb Starbucks" performance art, marketing ploy, or something else entirely?

 

Residents of Los Angelesās Los Feliz neighborhood were left to ponder a question with no immediate answers this weekend as a new coffee shop opened that resembled your typical Starbucks in every way, but the word "Dumb" in front of it.

 

"We are aware of it and looking into it," a Starbucks(SBUX +1.05%) spokesman said. 

 

He added that Dumb Starbucks is  "obviously" unaffiliated with the Seattle based chain.

 

Dumb Starbucks offered "Dumb Vanilla Blonde Roast," "Dumb Chai Tea Latte," "Dumb Caramel Macchiato," and much more, all available in sizes "Dumb Venti," "Dumb Grande" and "Dumb Tall." 

 

Sitting on a shelf by the cash register were a selection of CDs, including "Dumb Jazz Standards," "Dumb Norah Jones Duets" and "A Dumb Taste of Cuba."

 

For the opening weekend, at least, everything was free -- probably the reason that the line on Saturday extended out the door, as word about the baffling new business spread on social media.

 

"Dumb Starbucks" was staffed by just two harried workers, who either couldn't or wouldn't offer much in the way of explanation. At about 5:20 p.m., the pair said they had run out of supply for the day and had to shut down, to the dismay of dozens of people still waiting for a free cup of dumb coffee.

 

A barrista who identified herself as Amber said she recently found the job online and was interviewed briefly by a man whose name she doesn't recall. Asked whether the store was some kind of artistic statement, she responded, "I donāt know. What is art? Maybe serving coffee is art."

 

Pressed further, she pointed visitors to a "frequently asked questions" handout. The paper says that Dumb Starbucks is using the Starbucks Corp. name and logo "for marketing purposes" and that it is legal because of "parody law" and the "fair use" doctrine.

 

Among its other explanations:

 

So is this 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 word "dumb" comes out of necessity, not enmity.

 

The sheet listed an email address at the bottom, an inquiry to which was not immediately returned.


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