'Dumb Starbucks' can't outsmart health inspectors

LOS ANGELES - The brains behind the "Dumb Starbucks" coffee shop generated a lot of buzz with their publicity stunt -- but they couldn't outwit health inspectors, who shut the store on its fourth day for operating without a valid permit.

The television comedian who opened the shop had insisted he didn't need a permit because the space was legally an art gallery and the coffee was art, not a beverage.

Los Angeles County health inspectors disagreed, and by Monday afternoon told the shop to stop serving coffee before posting a "notice of closure" by the front door.

Dumb Starbucks also caught the attention of the real Starbucks.

"While we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark," Laurel Harper, a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Starbucks Corp., 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 sheet of frequently asked questions 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."

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, said Monday that he didn't need Starbucks' permission and he was glad the company had not pursued a "case they know they can't win."

Fielder said he was pursuing the "American dream," before acknowledging that he planned to use the bit on his Comedy Central show "Nathan For You."