Dan McCall Gives the Government a Humor Lesson that All Trademark Owners Should Keep in Mind

Back in 2011 Dan McCall’s destributors received cease-and-desist letters from the NSA and DHS over T-shirts and mugs criticizing the two agencies by spoofing their seals, which are protected by special, nontrademark statutes. In October 2013 McCall filed a declaratory judgment action (PWG-13-3203 in the District of Maryland) to stop this interference with his free speach.  The parties appear to have reached a settlement, with the NSA conceding that the merchandise was “intended as parody” and shouldn’t have warranted a letter, and the DHS agreeing that its cease-and-desist request was “overbroad” because McCall was merely providing “commentary” about the agency.  The agencies are required to provide a letter to McCall and his distributor, confirming their interpretation that 50 U.S.C. 3613(a) does not prohibit parody or commentary:

The DHS’ letter provided a similar qualification of 18 U.S.C. 506, and even promised to establish internal guidelines about sending cease and desist letters in the future:

COMMENT: While trademark owners may not like parodies, the proper borders or which are sometimes hard to define, increasingly there is a price for overreaching.  There are other, better ways to get results than dashing off an overbroad and blustery cease and desist letter that may backfire.