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“The NSA. The only part of government that actually listens.”
That classic line making fun of the National Security Agency was not welcomed by the federal government, and agents with the NSA and Department of Homeland Security came down hard on the Minnesota man who marketed products mocking the spy-happy proclivities of Big Brother.
But now, it appears the legal nightmare is finally over for Dan McCall of Sauk Rapids, Minn.
As WND reported last August, McCall runs LibertyManiacs.com, a company that markets “freedom products for liberty lovers.” He said the NSA used a claim of copyright infringement to stop him from selling T-shirts and other products making fun of the Big Brother agency.
Some of McCall’s popular slogans on the clothing and coffee mugs use a phony version of the NSA’s logo include “Peeping while you’re sleeping,” and “Spying on you since 1952.”
Now, after a series of cease-and-desist letters from both the NSA and DHS, the government has settled out of court for what McCall says is a victory.
According to a Maryland District Court settlement agreement executed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, the NSA is sending a letter to Zazzle.com, McCall’s merchandise maker, admitting its initial claim of violations of federal law was incorrect.
Last year, the advocacy group Public Citizen sued both the DHS and the NSA on McCall’s behalf, claiming the takedown orders not only violated the First Amendment, but were also an abuse of government power.
The new settlement provides McCall with a $500 check to cover his court costs in connection with that suit, but the agreement also mandates McCall drop his legal action, while the NSA and DHS admit no liability to him.
“They basically gave me everything I was asking for,” McCall told the St. Cloud Times.
“It’s a victory for First Amendment rights. We’re pretty excited. I know my lawyer is, and I am, too. We think it’s going to make a little bit of a difference. I think this case showed the hush that can happen on the Web when people attempt to satire or write stuff. People are reluctant to do satire or parodies and criticize these agencies when something like this hangs over you. I got a ton of letters from other artists saying, ‘I want to wait and see how this turns out for you before I do anything.’ Some of the best illustrators, people I really respect, sent me their stuff say, ‘Here, you can have it, Dan. I’m not going to chance it.’ ”
Now that the pressure is off, McCall says he can call the case “funny” and “goofy.”
“It’s certainly nice to have behind me,” he told the Times. “The reason this got started is because I got angry. I thought it was so silly. … Once the realization started to sink in that I did make a federal case out of this, you get a little nervous. I’m certainly glad they decided to settle. This means they can’t arbitrarily step on my toes, and I don’t have to worry going forward about making a joke and having them clamp down, and the third-party sellers don’t have to worry about their stuff being taken down. That’s a big point, because otherwise it could cut off an income stream for a lot of satirists.”
The original case caught the attention of Mark Gibbs of Computerworld, who called the NSA's actions "monstrously wrong."
"First of all I'm amazed that any U.S. government agency can get away with claiming violation of 'their' intellectual property rights when they are, in reality, part of us, and we the people, paid for said intellectual property. Sure, go after those ripoff artists in England or France should they dare to illegally use the hallowed logos of U.S. government agencies, but going after U.S. citizens for parody?" Gibbs noted.
"Second, I'm even more amazed that the NSA doesn't recognize the inherent PR problem they have created by a bureaucratic response to something that, given the negative publicity they're already receiving, can only make them look even more devious and manipulative than we now think they are, which is a brand new realization for most Americans."
"Of course, even if in reality the NSA has no legal leg to stand on, it is the 800-pound gorilla and can flex its muscles for what is, with respect to its budget, a trivial cost," he added.
In an ironic twist, while the NSA is claimed copyright infringement, the agency itself has allegedly used without permission an image for its top-secret data-mining program known as PRISM.
As WND reported last June, PRISM, which stands for "protect, respond, inform, secure and monitor," is the NSA's massive spy program scouring email and phone records.
Its official logo has reportedly been purloined from Adam Hart-Davis, formerly of the BBC program "Tomorrow's World."
Adam's son, Damon Hart-Davis, has said in the Register newspaper that the image is free for use, as long as there's acknowledgment of the source and a link to the material online, neither of which have been provided by the NSA.
Many Americans took to the Internet to say federal and state government programs paid for by tax dollars are not subject to copyright.
"The U.S. government CANNOT claim copyright. Period," said Steve Moody. "Anything created by the U.S. government is automatically in the public domain."
And Ron Lahti noted: "We all need to the raise the bullsh-t flag on this! The NSA is a 'publicly funded' government agency. How can they claim 'copyright infringement?' It's like saying everyone who publishes or manufactures anything with any of our other federal 'public' government agency symbols is violating copyright laws. Are we going to have every manufacturer and retailer that makes or sells any of our T-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, bumper/window stickers, etc. that contains, for example, 'U.S. Army' or any other military-service logo, from making these products available just because they have an 'official' emblem that is also now 'copyrighted' with their design? This is beyond fringe lunacy and seems as the NSA is just grasping at straws, for whatever reason. This action by our government is obnoxiously outrageous, and is nothing more than an arrogantly suppressive strong-arm tactic to infringe on the rights and liberties of the American taxpaying people!"