National Security Agency v. McCall

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Correspondence

Date: 

03/15/2011

Status: 

Concluded

Location: 

California

Disposition: 

Settled (total)

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

$500.00
McCall is a designer who creates parodies of the official seals of the National Security Agency ("NSA") and the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") for use on T-shirts, mugs and similar merchandise. Merchandise containing McCall's designs were offered for sale on... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Dan McCall

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Location of Party: 

  • Maryland

Location of Party: 

  • Minnesota

Legal Counsel: 

Ezra Gollogly; Paul A. Levy; Scott L. Nelson
Description

McCall is a designer who creates parodies of the official seals of the National Security Agency ("NSA") and the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") for use on T-shirts, mugs and similar merchandise. Merchandise containing McCall's designs were offered for sale on a website owned and hosted by Zazzle, Inc. In March 2011, Zazzle received a letter from the NSA, and in August 2011, an email from DHS, indicating that several different images offered by Zazzle, including those created by McCall, were in violation of federal law. Specifically, the NSA letter indicated that McCall's NSA parodies were in violation of 50 U.S.C. § 3613, prohibiting the misuse of federal agency names, initials, or seals. The DHS letter indicated that McCall's DHS parodies were in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 506, 701, and 1017, which similarly prohibit the wrongful use of seals of federal departments or agencies.

Thereafter, McCall filed a complaint for declaratory relief against the NSA and DHS regarding the designs which were the subject of the agency communications. In the complaint, McCall claimed that his parodies were not in violation of any federal law, as his use of the images of the NSA and DHS seals did not create any likelihood of confusion about the source or sponsorship of the materials on which they were available to be printed. McCall further claimed that the statutes cited by NSA and DHS must be construed narrowly to permit parodic use of the agencies' names and seals to avoid conflict with the First Amendment.

In February 2014, McCall entered into a settlement agreement ("Agreement") with both NSA and DHS. In the Agreement, the parties agreed to the following:

  • McCall acknowledges that the Agreement is the result of a compromise and is not an admission by the United States of any liability or responsibility.
  • McCall agrees to file a notice of voluntary dismissal to dismiss the Complaint with prejudice.
  • NSA and DHS agrees to formally issue a letter to Zazzle and McCall indicating that they were not in violation of any federal law.
  • Counsel for NSA and DHS will request from the United States Treasury Judgment Fund one check in the amount of $500 made payable to McCall for the court costs incurred by the plaintiff.
Details

Publication Medium: 

Website

Subject Area: 

  • Trademark
Court Information & Documents

Jurisdiction: 

  • California

Source of Law: 

  • United States

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the District of Maryland

Court Type: 

Federal

Case Number: 

1.13-cv-03203-MJG

Relevant Documents: