Liberty Maniacs is a merchandising company known for taking smart and snarky digs at the government; its parody T-shirts contain slogans like "Santorum Happens" and "The CIA: Democratizing the Shit Out of the Third World."
Not surprising then was the company's recent decision to make a product line that parodied the dreaded NSA. Liberty Maniacs' new line of merchandise carries the official agency seal, edited to read, "Peeping While You're Sleeping," along with the slogan, "The NSA. The Only Part of the Government That Actually Listens."
Funny, right? Apparently, not to everyone.
According to The Daily Dot, the popular online market site Zazzle quickly removed the line from its site almost as soon as it went live. The reason cited was that Liberty Maniacs' use of the NSA seal "may infringe upon intellectual property rights."
But considering the company's products are an obvious parody, it would seem that T-shirts like this are a protected form of speech and fall under Fair Use.
The NSA categorically disagrees. The agency issued its own statement about the shirts to The Daily Dot:
The NSA seal is protected by Public Law 86-36, which states that it is not permitted for “…any person to use the initials ‘NSA,’ the words ‘National Security Agency’ and the NSA seal without first acquiring written permission from the Director of NSA.”
The agency also claimed it didn't contact Zazzle about Liberty Maniacs' products in particular, but confirmed its policy is to take "appropriate measures" against any attempts to co-opt their logo.
Liberty Maniacs' owner, Dan McCall has since resurrected his product line on CafePress, where so far, he hasn't had any issues selling it. In fact, now the tag, "Banned by the NSA" is proudly displayed over the products' thumbnail. How much longer he'll be able to do that without issue, however, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, in the interest of free speech, here are some other NSA-related T-shirts from around the web. None of them bear the NSA logo, but their underlying spirit is just as enthusiastically snarky as those that do.