The hot trend in Silhouette Cameo crafting right now seems to be personalizing reusable Starbucks cups bought in store for $1. But, is it legal? Does it infringe on the Starbucks company trademark? Like most trademark or copyright infringements, the answer isn’t cut and dry.
In my quest to get an answer, I reached out to Starbucks customer service who got me in touch with the Starbucks copyright department. To fully answer the question, “Does customizing a reusable Starbucks cup violate trademarks of the Starbucks company?”, we have to look at the three different styles of cups I’ve seen created.
- Style 1: Personalized cups where a decal is placed around the existing Starbucks logo. In these projects, the Starbucks logo is not recreated or altered in any fashion. The decal is sized to fit perfectly around the existing Starbucks logo.
- Does it infringe the Starbucks company trademark? This is a “shade of grey”, with no definite answer. In consulting with a close lawyer friend, she recommended not to sell the cups, because you are relying solely on the recognizable trademark of Starbucks to sell the cup. In this case, a consumer may become confused thinking that Starbucks approved the design or produced the design. If you must sell the designs, consider selling them as the decals only – and don’t mention the name Starbucks. For example: “customized coffee cup decal” would be an acceptable description.
- Style 2: Parodies in which other characters or images are added to the reusable cup. Parodies fall under Fair Use copyright law. Specifically, it states,“A parody is a work that ridicules another, usually well-known work, by imitating it in a comic way. Judges understand that, by its nature, parody demands some taking from the original work being parodied. Unlike other forms of fair use, a fairly extensive use of the original work is permitted in a parody in order to “conjure up” the original.”* I’ve seen reusable cups with everything from Disney, to hunting, professions, to Batman or Marvel, and many more.
- Does it infringe on the Starbucks company trademark? No, parodies fall within the Fair Use copyright law as stated above. However, using a character in place of the Starbucks logo may infringe on the copyright or trademark of another company. For example, the “Malificent’s Dark Roast” design shown in the photo below is a copyright infringement of Disney’s character Malificent.
- Style 3: Personalized decals that recreate the Starbucks logo and go over the existing Starbucks logo with or without additional designs.
- Does it infringe on the Starbucks company trademark? Yes, this is a clear infringement. You are not able to recreate/edit/alter the Starbucks logo for any reason.
Can you sell these personalized designs?
If you choose to sell the cups, do so at your own risk. Starbucks is aware that crafters are creating the cups, and may begin sending cease and desist letters to crafters who are in violation in the future. If you are selling the decals online, I’d recommend that you list exactly what you are selling and not mention the word “Starbucks”. Lastly, be sure that you have a commercial license for any font you are using in the design of the decal.
Did Starbucks have an official response?
As I mentioned above, I have been in contact with Starbucks. After contacting their customer service department to get the contact information for their copyright department, this is the email I sent to them:
This is the response that I received:
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and have presented my research findings to my readers. You should not take the statements as facts and I recommend you consult an attorney that specializes in these types of cases for a definite answer. Thank you to the Starbucks Copycat department for your assistance during multiple phone calls and emails. Starbucks is aware of this article. If any new information becomes available, I will update this article.
Update 8:54pm, 4/28/2015: A kind reader has forwarded me on the response she received today from the Starbucks copycat team. I’ve included it below:
“Dear xxxxxxx, Thank you for contacting Starbucks. Thank you for your inquiry regarding use of our $1.00 Starbucks logo mugs.
Per Starbucks company policy, we do not grant permission to change our proprietary images. This applies to the logo on the cups. Adding to the logo is changing the image.
Anyone profiting from the sale of our modified image is in direct violation of our policy. The Starbucks logo is trademarked. Adding to, taking from or otherwise modifying the image is a violation of the copyright.
Again, we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and wish you the best of luck in your business endeavor.
This is pretty cut and dry. If you make and sell Starbucks cups, do so at your own risk, and know that Starbucks could possibly sue you. I have again reached out to the Starbucks Copycat department. The text referenced above is their new form letter to answer all questions they receive regarding personalized cups.
*Further reading: Stanford University’s article on Fair Use and Parodies
Design credits: Big Bucks Coffee – Michelle Taylor, Malificent’s Roast – Amber Becht