Homeland Security and NSA Show No Sense of Humor in Trying to Quash Parody Merchandise Sales

Friday, November 01, 2013
(graphic: LibertyManiacs.com)

The owner of an online store selling merchandise that parodies the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and National Security Agency (NSA) is suing the agencies after they tried to stop the sale of his products.


The parodies sold by Dan McCall included coffee cups that read “Department of Homeland Stupidity” and t-shirts with the slogan: “The NSA: The only part of government that actually listens.”


With the help of Zazzle.com, which manufactured the products, McCall sold the parodies through his site LibertyManiacs.com.


But two years ago, DHS and NSA pressured Zazzle with a cease-and-desist order to stop it from helping McCall. The agencies claimed the products, which included altered versions of their government seals, violated federal laws (50 USC 3613 and 18 USC 506) protecting the unauthorized use or manipulation of the seals. Zazzle was even warned by DHS that it could be hit with fines or jail time.


Faced with the threat of legal action, Zazzle dropped McCall.


So he turned around and is now suing DHS and NSA, claiming their actions violated his constitutional rights.


In his 8-page lawsuit, McCall claims that his images make fair use of both the DHS and NSA seals “to identify federal government agencies as the subject of criticism.” He also says that his work is protected by the First Amendment, and that it is unconstitutional for the government to prevent him from selling his parody merchandise to “customers who want to display the items to express their own criticisms of NSA and DHS.”


Outside the lawsuit, McCall has criticized Zazzle for buckling under to the government threats rather than fighting back. Furthermore, Zazzle refused to supply copies of the government letters to McCall’s lawyer, offering only to read them over the phone.


Meanwhile, McCall found another online partner, CafePress, to help him sell his shirts and mugs. It is believed that they will be more resistant to legal threats from the government, as they had previously stood up to the Republican National Committee (RNC) when, a few years ago, it tried to stop the company from using the party’s elephant logo on various products that both supported and condemned the RNC.

-Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

U.S.A. Warns 'Homeland Stupidity' Parodist (by Elizabeth Warmerdam, Courthouse News Service)

NSA, DHS Sued For Threatening People Who Created Parody Merchandise (by Mike Masnick, techdirt)


Douglas 5 years ago
The DHS is not overly fond of humor. In fact, the TSA warns of arrests possible for persons making inappropriate statements or jokes during the screening process at airport security checkpoints.

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