Ben Swann Reality Check
NSA Using Copyright Claims To Crush Free Speech?
Can a government agency block criticism by claiming copyright infringement? Sounds a bit ridiculous but it is happening. The NSA is effectively stopping one small business owner from criticism, claiming that by using its name he has infringed on their copyright.
Can they do that?
This is a Reality Check you won’t see anywhere else.
This is a story I had a hard time believing until I looked into it for myself. Here is the backstory.
Dan McCall is the owner of a company that makes snarky t-shirts. The company is called Liberty Maniacs. Liberty Maniacs carry a number of t-shirts dealing with lack of privacy and the growing police state. They sell on a site called www.Zazzle.com
None of it has been a problem—until Liberty Maniacs released a shirt called “The NSA.”
The image looks like the NSA logo but has a motto that is clearly a pun—“Peeping while you are sleeping”—followed by the phrase “The NSA, the only part of government that actually listens.”
Shortly after the shirt went online, www.Zazzle.com pulled the shirt from its website, sending this message: “Thank you for publishing products on Zazzle.
Unfortunately, it appears that your product, The NSA, contains content that is in conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines. We will be removing this product from the Zazzle Marketplace shortly.
“Policy Notes: Design contains an image or text that may infringe on intellectual property rights. We have been contacted by the intellectual property right holder and we will be removing your product from Zazzle’s Marketplace due to infringement claims.”
Dan McCall, the owner of Liberty Maniacs spoke with me via Skype and says there were multiple items dealing with the NSA that were pulled down from Zazzle.
“In terms of shirts, two, and then maybe four or five bumper stickers. Basically anything remotely relating to the NSA was taken down. So I’m not sure if that was subsequently a blanket policy that Zazzle themselves put up because they don’t want to deal with the hassle and they didn’t want to spend time interpreting each thing knowing they would run into problems or if they were plugged into NSA legal and they were watching things as they go,” says McCall.
So to be clear, McCall was using the NSA logo, the NSA claimed copyright infringement and Zazzle.com pulled the content down.
In fairness, what McCall was doing does use the official logo of a government agency. Can anyone just use that logo? Actually, yes. According to both the Electronic Freedom Foundation and the American Bar Association, “parody is recognized as a type of fair use, like other commentary and criticism, and courts recognize that a parody must often take recognizable elements from the work it comments upon.
Courts do distinguish parody from satire. Parody copies from the object it mocks…”
You can’t claim copyright infringement if your logo or image is used as part of a parody. So the next question, is this logo a parody?