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Tuesday, October 29, 2013



Esteemed Mr. Stallman, et al.:

Yep, perhaps I was one of those who confused this issue with one of copyright/trademark law. Sorry about that. I have, however, now reviewed Sec. 15. (a) of the NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ACT OF 1959, PL 86-36 ( and find that it indeed refers only to "NSA" and "National Security Agency" (as well as the agency seal) ... which makes it all the more interesting that Zazzle just this evening has taken it upon itself to delete my modified design, which had used "N.S.A." and not once referred to the "National Security Agency". Stinks of overreach, imho. But whose?

I'd still love to join that (hypothetical) class-action lawsuit!

Richard M Stallman

One of the comments confused this issue with copyright law.
One practice that encourages people to confuse copyrights with trademarks,
and even with very specific laws such as this one, is the misleading
overgeneralization "intellectual property". It conveys a false feeling
of having understood more deeply, while encouraging people to lump
unrelated laws together. See

Please join me in promotimg clearer understanding of each of these
unrelated and disparate laws, by refusing to use any term that tries to
generalize about them.

Thomas D Dial

While the NSA items are a bit edgy, it isn't hard to imagine that more than just a few NSA employees have enough sense of humor to order one. NSA management (over)reaction is unsurprising from civil service functionaries, though.

I ordered a cup.


Mr. McCall should learn that it's "you're" and not "your" sleeping.

dominic de bellis

nsa's reactionary behavior will not help its legitimate mission any more than unleashing the dragoons on innocent marching peasants helped the czar to save his regime


I, too, am a shopkeeper at Zazzle (alas!), and just today one of my t-shirt designs was eradicated on the NSA's behalf by those ever-accomodating guardians of IP "rights" in Redwood City when someone in London tried to buy a copy. My design, dating from several years ago, had no graphics, merely the text:

On the Internet, the NSA knows you're a dog.

Perhaps if one restricts oneself to praising the agency's tireless, heroic efforts to keep Amerika safe...? Anyhow, a simple expedient -- verified by consulting TESS, the Trademark Electronic Search System ( -- occurred to me, and the revised version of my design now reads:

On the Internet, the N.S.A. knows you're a dog.

(NY Times style, as it were.) This is not to say I wouldn't be delighted to join Mr. McCall in a class-action lawsuit, which unfortunately his suit appears not to be.

Paul Levy

Response to rxantos: You would be correct if DHS had advanced a copyright claim, but this is a trademark-type claim, and not one made under the Lanham Act but under statutes that particularly regulate the use of official agency seals. You can find more detail about those statutes if you read paragraphs 12 and 13 of the complaint, which is linked from the post above; the post also has a hyperlink to the text of one of the statutes that DHS cited.

Terry McCall

Great blog Mr Levy. I admit I'm biased as Dan's father. We appreciate you leading the charge for liberty for us all.


If the DHS is indeed a government agency, then they cannot copyright anything. As anything government makes is automatically in the public domain.

If however DHS is a corporation they can copyright things. However that would mean that they are misrepresenting themselves as a law enforcement agency, which in turn is a felony.

So what it is?

John Heidenreich

Are you still selling things with this on them?

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