An individual or organization can produce a mark strikingly similar to a registered trademark, as long as the mark’s intent is humorous, in which case it is protected as parody. However, parody protection is a very ambiguous area of intellectual property litigation, because insulting parodies can still incite lawsuits. A mark is most likely to be protected as parody if it does not compete with the parodied trademark, causes no consumer confusion and is humorous.
According to The International Business Times, Starbucks’ legal representatives are trying to sue comedian Nathan Fielder, the mastermind behind Dumb Starbucks, for trademark infringement. However, Fielder claims that Dumb Starbucks is protected as parody. Dumb Starbucks is almost identical to an actual Starbucks except that the word Dumb precedes the title and every menu item. For instance, they serve Dumb Espresso, Dumb Frappuccino and Dumb Tea.
“Although we are a fully-functioning coffee shop, for legal reasons Dumb Starbucks needs to be categorized as a work of parody art,” said a representative of Dumb Starbucks. “So, in the eyes of the law, our ‘coffee shop’ is actually an art gallery and the ‘coffee’ you’re buying is actually the art.”
The real litmus test of parody lies in whether Starbucks consumers purchase coffee at Dumb Starbucks under the false assumption that it is real Starbucks, in which case the project would qualify as trademark infringement.
There is not a clear precedent set for parody litigation, so the legal proceedings are often incredibly complex. As such, if an entity claims to be parodying your work and you feel that they are infringing on your trademarks, it is best to work alongside an experienced trademark infringement attorney.
Our Los Angeles trademark infringement attorneys have over 25 years of intellectual property litigation experience. We promise to halt the production of infringing material and recover the lost profits and damages that you deserve. To schedule a confidential consultation with one of our Los Angeles trademark infringement attorneys, call us today at (323) 653-3900, ext. 110.
[Did You Know: The 1994 Supreme Court case Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music held that commercial parody is protected as fair use of a mark.]
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