Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Topics: Politics News
Once upon a time, Kieron Dwyer was a frappuccino addict. Today, he’s in deep latte.
Last spring, the 33-year-old San Francisco cartoonist was sued by Starbucks for copyright infringement. Dwyer’s mistake? He messed with the Seattle java giant’s squeaky-clean trademark.
In mid-1998, Dwyer created a scathing parody of the famous Starbucks logo. Riffing on the ubiquitous coffee chain’s titular longhaired mermaid, Dwyer stuck a coffee cup in the creature’s hand, a cellphone in the other, and gave the chaste Ms. Starbucks prominent nipples and a navel ring. Instead of the familiar “Starbucks Coffee,” the outer circle now said “Consumer Whore” — with dollar signs instead of stars.
Dwyer, who paid the rent as a professional cartoonist for Marvel and DC Comics before launching his own comic book, Lowest Comic Denominator, began selling the parody logo via T-shirts and stickers on his Web site. The image, he says, captures the “crass, rampant commercialism in this country.”
Dwyer contends the idea was all in fun. Starbucks didn’t get the joke. Last April, they sued.
“It’s not funny,” says Starbucks spokesman Alan Gulick. “Someone is taking our property and altering it in an offensive way to make money.”
Starbucks hammered Dwyer with a temporary restraining order which banned him from displaying, marketing or selling the logo; it also sought a permanent injunction. Starbucks also demanded that Dwyer pay damages and hand over all T-shirt profits, even though Dwyer claims he sold the shirts at cost. (The company declined to say how much it was seeking in damages.)
“It’s beyond absurd,” Dwyer says. “Like carpet-bombing an anthill.”
In support of its lawsuit, Starbucks claimed the parody infringed upon the copyright of its real logo, tarnished the Starbucks trademark and violated California’s unfair competition laws.
It’s hard to see just how Starbucks — with nearly 2,900 outlets in 14 countries and $2 billion in revenue — could be threatened by Dwyer, an unassuming guy who lives quietly in the Presidio area with his girlfriend. But Dwyer seems to have touched a tender nerve.
Starbucks grew to be a giant by portraying itself as a cozy, neighborhood spot, where people could lounge on cushy couches or read the paper while sipping on high-tech java. Being cast as a greedy corporate parasite hardly gels with its well-manicured image. (To its defense, Starbucks is often considered among the best companies in America to work for, extending a wide variety of benefits, including stock options, to all employees.)
Gulick says Starbucks reacted so strongly to Dwyer’s parody because, “It’s not fair to everyone who has worked hard to make Starbucks what it is today.”
Dwyer’s parody hasn’t exactly slowed Starbucks down. In the past year and a half, the caffeinated monster has continued its aggressive expansion in San Francisco and other big cities, challenging McDonald’s, Barnes & Noble and the Gap in instant recognition. Starbucks executives say they are still in the early days of the company’s growth cycle; Starbucks has its sights on 20,000 stores worldwide. In San Francisco itself, a city steeped in bohemian lore, many small coffeehouses have been driven out of business by Starbucks’ rapacity.
“They represent things that aren’t healthy,” Dwyer says. “They are predatory and virus-like.”
So how does this David vs. Goliath saga end? Last Friday, federal Judge Maxine Chesney issued a mixed ruling. According to the judge, Dwyer’s parody doesn’t infringe on Starbucks’ trademark. Chesney added there was little chance that anyone could confuse the two.
Nevertheless, the judge did rule that the Starbucks logo was indeed tarnished because of Dwyer’s use of the word “whore.”
Meanwhile, Dwyer can continue using and distributing his logo; he just can’t sell it for a profit.
Both sides are claiming victory.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)