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The NSA has been and continues to listen in on our conversations and track our internet behavior. But a recent incident has made it clear that the NSA is also attempting to block free speech by using copyright infringement law. This move makes it clear that the NSA doesn’t want to be criticized. And they can use their influence to prevent people from expressing their thoughts on NSA activities.
Liberty Maniacs Products Pulled Down
No agency likes to be criticized, but this is a thorn that all must deal with in a free country. So is it really possible that the NSA is claiming copyright infringement to block the expression of criticism against its activities? One company’s story shows that they are. A company called Liberty Maniacs makes spoof shirts. One line sports designs that treats the topics of limited privacy and the growing police state. They are not the only company that does this, and there hasn’t been any problem with these products so far. Then recently this company came out with a design that parodies the NSA. The picture looks like the NSA logo, but the text on it is an obvious pun and reads, “Peeping while you are sleeping” and “The NSA, the only part of government that actually listens.”
The shirt was featured online for only a short time before it was taken down by the sellers. Liberty Maniacs received a message that claimed the shirt conflicted with its content guidelines. The specific guideline that it violated was intellectual property rights, and the seller explained that they had received an infringement claim from the intellectual property right holder. In other words, the NSA complained that Liberty Maniacs had violated the copyright on their logo. Other items related to the NSA, including bumper stickers, were also pulled from the online marketplace for the same reason. Shortly after this, the DHS also claimed copyright infringement. The Liberty Maniacs products relating to their department were then taken off the online marketplace as well.
Fair Use of Official Government Agency Logos
In reality, Liberty Mechanics has the right to use the official NSA logo. The Electronic Freedom Foundation and the American Bar Association both confirm that parody is fair use. It is a type of commentary or criticism, which courts recognize. Parody necessarily takes recognizable elements from what it comments on to be recognized and to make its point. The U.S. Supreme Court also recognizes parody as using elements of the work (i.e. the NSA logo) to create a new one (i.e. the image on the shirt) that comments on the original. The Court further states that it can provide social benefit by illuminating elements of the original work and by creating the new one. Therefore, because the Liberty Maniacs t-shirt image is an obvious parody, it is not in violation of intellectual property rights.
The Ironic Twist on Copyright Infringement Claims
While Liberty Mechanics debated taking the copyright infringement issue to court, an ironic twist hit the Web. The NSA is claiming copyright infringement against Liberty Mechanics’ Dan McCall for his parody, but the NSA itself is currently facing copyright infringement claims itself. As it turns out, the logo that the NSA official uses for its PRISM program was stolen. (PRISM is the program that allows the NSA to spy on emails, phone records, and other information.) The image belongs to Adam Hart Davis, a well-known BBC presenter. The NSA image is just a flipped version of Davis’ image. Any person or group using Davis’ image demands a link to a photo gallery and an acknowledgement, which were not met by the NSA.
The Bigger Picture and How VPN Software Can Help
The real issue here is not that Liberty Mechanics was wrongly accused and is suffering damages from the pull down of its NSA and DHS products. The real issue is freedom of speech. McCall of Liberty Mechanics made comments about the NSA and the DHS that are within his rights to express, and in a way that is also within his rights to express. He is also covered by the freedoms of artistic expression. What this means is that the NSA had no right to prevent the products from being sold. So they strong-armed the online store to pull down the Liberty Mechanics products. The NSA didn’t like what McCall was saying and they used their power to clamp down on his free speech.
Limiting free speech is a big issue in many countries around the world. But it is incomprehensible for Americans to put up with this violation of their First Amendment rights. VPN software has long been helping citizens of other countries to battle the suppression of their freedoms of expression. VPN software has allowed ordinary people to discuss their thoughts and feelings with other people across the globe. VPN software has protected brave journalists who report on abuses that affect people everywhere. And now VPN software can help people stay safe from agencies who are throttling their freedoms right here at home. Thousands of agency-specific parodies are spread over the internet. And their authors are safe only when their identities can be protected. VPN software can protect people’s identities so they never have to think twice about exercising their constitutional right to comment on what they feel about any government agency.