Friday, March 14, 2014

150.4 - Good News: NSA fails in attempt to block satire of its logo

Good News: NSA fails in attempt to block satire of its logo

Finally, we have another bit of court-related good news. This involves Dan McCall, an artist and satirist from Minnesota. A couple of years ago he reacted to the increasing revelations of spying by the NSA by producing a more truthful version of the NSA's logo, one that started appearing on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other items. and is reproduced just below.

The NSA was not amused. So is had the Justice Department hit him with a cease and desist notice, claiming copyright infringement.

A lot of people might have folded under that kind of threat, understandably so, but McCall didn't. Instead, with the help of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, he fought back in court, arguing that the design was clearly a critique of the government's violations of the Fourth Amendment and therefore was protected First Amendment free speech, free speech that was being violated by the government's demand.

Last month, after a three-year legal battle, the Justice Department issued a settlement agreement and general release. Translated from legalese, it means the federal government just gave up. And that is good news for him and for satire.

Satires and spoofs have considerable protection under the first Amendment, especially when they are criticizing the government - so much so that I wonder why the feds chose to initiate this for any reason other than sheer pique or pursue it for so long for any reason other than institutional ego. I know it's easy to come up with reasons related to suppressing dissent, but I've long been a fan of the notion of not ascribing to villainy that which can be explained by mere stupidity.

The takeaway from the case was offered by Paul Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who took the case: "Stand up for your rights."

And whenever someone stands up for their rights, that is good news.


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