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California: Dumb Starbucks closed after comic reveals stunt, social media buzz

It was a caffeine-charged Hollywood whodunit: Who created the Dumb Starbucks coffee shop that popped up and started serving free drinks from the corner of an otherwise uncelebrated California shopping center. PICS INSIDE

world Updated: Feb 11, 2014 16:45 IST
dumb starbucks

It was a caffeine-charged Hollywood whodunit: Who created the Dumb Starbucks coffee shop that popped up and started serving free drinks from the corner of an otherwise uncelebrated California shopping center.

After several days of speculation, the news came Monday: The shop was a Canadian comedian's publicity stunt.

Nathan Fielder told a crowd he was pursuing the American dream - before acknowledging that he planned to use the bit on his Comedy Central show Nathan For You.

Soon after, Los Angeles County health inspectors shut it down for operating without a valid permit.

For much of the weekend, a line from the store wound alongside the parking lot and up the block. They weren't coming for gourmet fare: Their descriptions of the coffee ranged from "horrible" to "bitter."

Dumb Starbucks opened Friday, and interest grew over the weekend with a boost from posts on Twitter and Facebook.

Once opened, Dumb Starbucks caught the attention of the real Starbucks.

Dumb venti, grande and tall cups are displayed inside Dumb Starbucks coffee shop in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles.(AFP photo)

"While we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark," spokeswoman Laurel Harper said in an email.

She added that most trademark disputes are handled informally, suggesting the company might not need to take legal action.

At the front counter, a frequently asked questions sheet said the store was shielded by "parody law."

"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,'" the sheet said.

It continued: "In the eyes of the law, our 'coffee shop' is actually an art gallery and the 'coffee' you're buying is considered art. But that's for our lawyers to worry about."

The menu is displayed inside Dumb Starbucks coffee shop in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, California. (AFP photo)

One law professor suggested Dumb Starbucks needed to sharpen its legal theory.

"Fair use" can protect parodies of copyright material, but a trademark such as the logo has different protections that Dumb Starbucks may well be violating, said Mark McKenna, a trademark law expert at the University of Notre Dame.

Fielder, the comedian, told a news conference Monday that he didn't need Starbucks' permission and he was glad they had not pursued a "case they know they can't win."

Soon after, he said city health inspectors had arrived and told his staff that they had to stop serving drinks.

Nathan Fielder, host of the Comedy Central show Nathan For You, steps forward as being behind the Dumb Starbucks store in the Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles California. (AFP photo)

People wait in a long line to get into a coffee shop named Dumb Starbucks in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, California. (AFP photo)

People wait in a long line to get into a coffee shop named Dumb Starbucks in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, California. (AFP photo)
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