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Starbucks isn’t laughing about ‘Dumb Starbucks’ parody store

People wait at Dumb Starbucks coffee in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. The store resembles a Starbucks with a green awning and mermaid logo, but with the word "Dumb" attached above the Starbucks sign. Spokeswoman Laurel Harper says the store is not affiliated with Starbucks and, despite the humor, the store cannot use the Starbucks name. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

On Sunday, just east of Hollywood, California, curious coffee enthusiasts lined up for Dumb Starbucks.

The store has been designed to look like a normal Starbucks store, right down to the sign and the green metal awning. But inside, things are very different.

All of the coffee, brewed by just two baristas, is free. There are also free pastries, purchased from Vons supermarket.

There’s a tip jar sitting alongside the non-functioning cash register. And nearby, you can browse CDs for sale, including “Dumb Nora Jones Duets” and “Dumb Jazz Standards.”

People waited for the novelty brew in lines nearing two blocks long Sunday. The line Monday morning was much shorter.

Starbucks was working to identify the group behind the fake store.

Film permits show the shop might be tied to a comedy duo with a cult following.

Filming was authorized at the location three times in the weeks before the store opened on Friday, according to permits taken out with Film LA, a private nonprofit that issues the licenses.

The permits were billed to Abso Lutely Productions, which is run by comedy duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim.

Heidecker and Wareheim, commonly referred to as Tim & Eric, are known for their surrealistic brand of sketch comedy. The duo’s free-form shows on the Cartoon Network and the low-budget 2012 feature film “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” have won them a following.

Starbucks spokeswoman Laurel Harper says the store is not affiliated with Starbucks and, despite the humor, the store cannot use the Starbucks name.

At Dumb Starbucks’ 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.”

A law professor suggested that Dumb Starbucks needed to sharpen up 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.

Like others, McKenna suspects the store is a publicity stunt _ but for what, he could only guess.

Report by KIRO Radio’s Frank Shiers, with contributions from the Associated Press

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