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Minn. Parody Artists Wins Case Against NSA, Homeland Security

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO) – When the nation’s top spy agency told him to “cease and desist,” a Sauk Rapids satirical artist told the agency where to go — court.

After a near three-year legal battle, Dan McCall has been given the green light to continue his parodies of federal agencies and their respective emblems.

The graphic artist first ran into trouble when he began selling T-shirts, coffee mugs and posters with a satirical slogan on the National Security Agency’s logo.

The case quickly snowballed into a test of the first amendment and the rights to alter government images in a satirical manner for commercial purposes.

McCall is a lot more than a talented graphic artist. He’s also a man with a message.

“When we’re laughing about something, we’re really on the same page,” McCall said.

It is of little surprise that his creative designs often parody governmental agencies.

So, when he changed the National Security Agency’s logo to read, “peeping while you’re sleeping,” government bureaucrats didn’t crack a smile. Instead, attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department issued a take-down letter, instructing the retail vendor selling the merchandise to cease and desist. In addition, the ongoing Edward Snowden spying scandal only added to the public’s mistrust of the agency.

“As serious as these issues get, you have to stand back and laugh at yourself, your country or your government. You have to discuss these things. When we don’t laugh when are we really talking?” McCall said.

Free speech advocates took up his lawsuit against the NSA and Homeland Security. McCall received pro bono legal representation with the Washington, D.C. Public Citizen Litigation Group. They argued that McCall’s use of government logos and emblems was not a violation of copyright or trademark laws.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department issued a settlement agreement and general release, essentially granting McCall an out of court victory.

“Stand up for your rights,” Paul Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who took the case, said. “I think the message here is to stand up for your rights. Dan McCall did and he was vindicated and other people should do so as well.”

McCall will now go back to doing what he loves by creating satire and parodies with art – turning this bane of bureaucrats into a hero of free expression.

McCall says the legal battle had a chilling effect on other parody artists. A number of them refrained from posting anything critical of the NSA, fearing retribution.

“I think it’s time that people stand up for themselves.” McCall said.

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