It seems parodying famous business entities has been becoming much more brazen in recent years as comedians search for different ways to get attention and make specific statements. With publicity stunts easily picked up online and reported all over social media, it’s no wonder why we’re seeing so many of them attempted now. And when you go by the “Dumb” Starbucks store stunt by comedian Nathan Fielder, you start to realize that comedians seem to be overly sure that the use of “fair use” in trademark law is on their side.
The truth is it may not be if you go by a report in the International Business Times about the subject of trademark fair use. It’s something that could affect you if you have specific trademarks that may be ripe for parody on either a local or national level.
How can you determine where the line is between fair use and infringement? It may have to depend on any precedent set by Starbucks in fighting back against the satiric stunt done in their name.
How Starbucks Could Change Satire
At the time of this article, Starbucks hasn’t done anything to sue comedian Nathan Fielder for his stunt of starting a parody store in their name. They very well could, though, based on one piece of evidence: Most people were confused rather than amused by it. As noted in the International Business Times and from trademark attorneys, fair use for parody generally falls under the premise that it has to be understood as parody.
Some examples would be “Saturday Night Live” and their use of real trademarked logos in their skits. They’re always protected through fair use because everyone is aware that what they’re watching is satire. In something much more dense as a pop culture statement, it could potentially backfire in whether or not it’s really fair use.
If Starbucks takes action against that comedian for temporarily starting a parody store, would you be better protected against parodists using your trademarks? You may want to think seriously about the benefits of satire over taking legal action.
Weighing the Media Benefits of Fair Use
The old adage of parody being a sure sign you’ve made it may be true in many contexts. Regardless, the judgments on that may become more complicated as parodists start to be more daring. In most circumstances of parody, you should be flattered that you’ve become a part of pop culture. When that parody gets seen by many eyes and has clear distinctions of being an outrageous parody, the publicity could help you considerably.
However, when someone clearly tries to make a political statement against your business, action may have to be necessary. The infamous Starbucks parody possibly shot itself in the foot by placing the “Dumb” next to the title and then using the real Starbucks logo. It straddles the line as a personal statement rather than parody.
A real parody would change the logo slightly and still rib you without using pejoratives in the title. It helps retain the art of parody as well as giving you a better guideline on how to handle a situation like this.
So the next time you see a parody of your trademarked property, think before you go gung-ho on suing. Fair use has its advantages, but you’re also much better off making your business as respected as possible so you’re not such a sitting duck.