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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

NSA Lightens Up Over T-Shirt Maker’s Parodies

(CN) - Federal agencies agreed to drop their claims against a designer who used their marks on T-shirts and novelty items to lampoon domestic-surveillance revelations.

The Tuesday decision settles a federal lawsuit Dan McCall filed against the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security this past October in Maryland after both agencies sent him cease-and-desist letters in 2011 objecting to his designs.

McCall runs the website LibertyManiacs.com, and has Zazzle.com print his images onto the items he sells.

Items for sale on his website include T-shirts and mugs with parodies that include the NSA's official seal with the words "Spying on You Since 1952." Others feature a modified NSA logo with the words, "Peeping While You're Sleeping," or "The NSA: The only part of the government that actually listens." A third design alters the DHS seal with the name "Department of Homeland Stupidity."

The agencies claimed the designs violated a federal law that limits the use of their marks.

In a March 2011 cease-and-desist letter, the NSA argued that its seal was used "in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such use is approved, endorsed or authorized by the National Security Agency."

The Department of Homeland Security sent a cease-and-desist letter in August 2011.

As part of the settlement agreement, however, both agencies have agreed to issue letters recanting their positions.

"NSA acknowledges that McCall's designs were intended as parody and should not have been viewed as conveying the impression that the designs were approved, endorsed or authorized by NSA," an unsigned letter that the NSA will file as part of the settlement agreement states.

The DHS categorized the cease-and-desist letter that it sent as "overbroad."

"In the future, internal guidelines will be developed to advise our staff when such letters should be transmitted, but for now, we acknowledge that the design by Liberty Maniacs ... does not violate any of the statutes cited in the letter," the unsigned letter reads.

The settlement also calls for McCall to receive $500 for court costs.

Federal law makes it illegal to alter the seal of either agency.McCall was represented by Paul Alan Levy with the Public Citizen Litigation Group.

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