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Maybe it was the nipples or the navel. More likely it was the substitution of “Consumer Whore” for “Starbucks Coffee” that got the Seattle-based coffee giant so upset over a Web site parody. Whatever the cause, Starbucks hired some big guns, bringing in John C. Rawls, of the Los Angeles office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, to file a copyright and trademark infringement suit against a San Francisco cartoonist who does business as Prodigal Turd Productions and Lowest Comic Denominator. Starbucks v. Dwyer, C00 1499. Starbucks has charged that T-shirts, bumper stickers and images on Dwyer’s Web site render the familiar mermaid logo “sexually offensive to a substantial portion of the public” and tarnish the coffee seller’s trademark by associating it “with conduct that many consumers will find lewd, immoral and unacceptable.” Rawls cited a string of cases that dealt with “tarnishment” of famous copyrights, including the “Genital Electric” T-shirts that were found to damage the General Electric trademark; the “Buttwiser” T-shirts, which a court found tarnished the Anheuser-Busch trademark; and the “Gucci Goo” diaper bags, which degraded the marks of the Italian fashion house Gucci. As a result, on April 28, U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney barred Dwyer from posting his parody. The Web site, at www.members.tripod.com/ ~LowestComicD/, features several other consumer-product parodies, including a dope-smoking cartoon character called “Tokemon”; an Evian water look-alike called Elian, with a photo of the Cuban child on the label; and a rejiggering of a Microsoft icon so that the middle, rather than the index, finger is raised. Andrew M. Gold, a partner at San Francisco’s Bogatin, Corman & Gold, represents Dwyer. He argued in court papers that his client’s logo is a parody whose purpose is “to lampoon Starbucks as an icon of rampant consumer-ism.” Gold said that the logo is a parody permitted under the Copyright Act. In asking the court to lift the restraining order, he is painting the dispute as a David-and-Goliath struggle. In the meantime, although the Starbucks parody is no longer on his Web site, Dwyer can’t resist another jab. The following message now pops up on his site: “Please hit cancel or no if you are easily offended, stupid, an employee of or lawyer for, Starbucks Corp. or all of the above. You are not welcome here.”

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