blog home Legal Online Marketing The Legal Implications of Dumb Starbucks – How Parody Law Affects Marketing

dumb starbucks parody controversyDid you hear about Dumb Starbucks? A coffee shop, bearing a very striking resemblance to your run-of-the-mill neighborhood Starbucks, popped up in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles in early February, and the owners of the shop weren’t worried about the real Starbucks shutting them down (Note: the L.A. County Department of Public Health did manage to shut the business down though for “operating without a valid public health permit”).

It would stand to reason that the use of copyrighted materials is wrong, and that any use of those materials for profit or gain of any kind would not be permitted. To assume anything otherwise would question the validity of copyrights altogether, and any deviation from the guidelines set forth by copyright laws would seem to nullify any penalties associated with breaking them. In other words, if you use someone else’s copyrighted material, you’re going to get in trouble for it, plain and simple.

However, according to fair use, an entity may use copyrighted materials for parody purposes as long as the use of those materials is clearly considered parody. While it seems contradictory, clearly identifying materials as parody items means that images and likenesses are required to mimic the original copyrighted material to such an extent that the similarities between the copyrighted material and parody work are clearly evident.

In the case of Dumb Starbucks, everything from the Starbucks logo to the company’s menu was being used in the Dumb Starbucks location, just with the word “dumb” added to everything to classify it as parody. By definition, a parody is a work that pokes fun at another, often times better known, work, always doing so in a comedic way. With parodies, it is understood that copyrighted materials have to be used in order to establish the connection between the original work and the parody. So, in essence, while parody does involve poking fun at some entity, it is presumably protected as freedom of speech.

In the world of marketing, competitors don’t often (if ever) parody the work of their competition. With lawyers, for instance, you won’t find one attorney’s website parodying someone else’s website because it just wouldn’t make sense. However, that doesn’t mean that attorneys and other businesses out there don’t sometimes “borrow” content from their competitors, passing it off as their own when they are not entitled to do so (this, of course, is not protected by freedom of speech). In order to lessen instances like this from occurring, it’s always important for any brand to stay on top of its marketing efforts, especially when it comes to the content that it puts up on its website. The unauthorized use of written or copyrighted material may be allowed when it comes to parody, but it isn’t allowed in most other circumstances, such as plagiarizing content.

For more information about how you can keep your website content from being infringed upon, contact the internet marketing professionals at SLS Consulting. Our team can help you safeguard the time and effort you put into your website so that someone else doesn’t attempt to profit for themselves at your expense. By Copyscaping and regularly refreshing your site content to keep it relevant, you can rest assured that your content won’t be copied, or even parodied, any time soon.

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