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Impersonating Gov’t Agency Is Illegal But Mocking Gov’t Agency Is Fine

(File photo: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

(File photo: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - It’s all fun and games until someone makes fun of the government.

When Dan McCall tried to sell his t-shirt designs on Zazzle.com, an on line merchandiser, including one with an altered logo of the National Security Administration that read “The NSA: The only part of the government that actually listens”, the response was overwhelming. From the government, that is, which didn’t find it at all humorous and sent a cease and desist letter telling him that federal law restricts the use of an agency’s name or seal.

Not one to back down from a fight with big brother, Mr. McCall sued the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security. I’m sure he won’t get audited.

Well? Is it illegal or isn’t it?

Actually, it is illegal to use an agency’s seal or logo and one faces fines and imprisonment for doing so. But Mr. McCall actually has won his fight because the government now says that statute is designed to prevent people from impersonating the feds, but that neither that statute nor any other is meant to prevent commentary about the agency.

In other words, for those of you now thinking of getting a badge and pulling over unsuspecting motorists, it is illegal to impersonate a government agency – it’s illegal to fool people into thinking you represent the government. It’s legal to make a fool out of the government.

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