Dan is an American artist, designer, and founder of the brand and website LibertyManiacs.com, and a design business. Liberty Maniacs is a company that extolls the virtues of individual liberty and limited government with their t-shirts, bumper stickers, home and office accessories, greeting cards and other products. Dan created some parody logos and t-shirts to mock the NSA, was promptly sued by the agency and ordered to cease and desist with selling the products.
He challenged the suit, counter-sued on first amendment grounds and won, which you can read about [http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2014/02/18/nsa-and-homeland-security-settle-first-amendment-lawsuit-over-parody-logos/.]
His story has been covered quite extensively in national press, so you might have seen his work in places like the Wall Street Journal, TIME Magazine, ABC, Fox News and USA Today.
Dan’s artistry has been described as irreverent and his politically topical images are popular with political activists and young people around the world. His art can be seen everywhere from social media profile pictures to official campaign shirts for United States presidential candidate Ron Paul, and even fundraisers for gentlemen like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.
His design business has clients from around the world. His latest line of work, infographics, have been featured in Mashable. According to Dan, “I love doing infographics – and even help run a fan site for the Hunger Games because I’m a geek like that.”
Dan McCall lives with my wife and three boys outside of the Twin Cities in the state of Minnesota.
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Start of Interview with Dan McCall
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Dan McCall to the show. Dan is founder of Liberty Maniacs, a company that installs the virtues of individual liberties and limited government with their T-shirts, bumper stickers and home and office accessories, greeting cards and other products. He’s got some great parody logos and T-shirts that mock the NSA, and he was recently involved in litigation with the NSA, and we’re going to hear all about that. And I’m not a big fan of this guy, but I do like this line: Sean Hannity says, “You are a great American.” I’m stealing a line. I like some of Sean’s stuff, but not all of it certainly. So I just thought that was applicable for you personally. So dive in and tell us… last week was some big and really good news for you, right?
Dan McCall: It was, it was. And thanks Jason for having me on the show and talking with your listeners. Yeah, last week was sort of the conclusion to I guess what had been the better part of last year and so far this year in dealing with the NSA. Last year about June 6th days after the Snowden revelations had come out, I decided to kind of do what I do, take a stab at the issue in the way I do which is through art and putting it on products like shirts and mugs like that.
Jason Hartman: And I don’t know if people heard what you just said. You were saying days after the Snowden revelation. You were talking about Edward Snowden. When those came out, Edward Snowden I think should rightfully be called a bit of a hero, as a whistle blower. The government likes whistleblowers when they’re in their favor, but when you’re whistleblowing on the government you get sent to prison. Just ask Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. Anyway, so you started doing what? You printed T-shirts and bumper stickers and different paraphernalia? And what did they say?
Dan McCall: The shirt… I kind of went to the drawing board and what I came up with was basically kind of doing something that I’ve done for a long time, which is doing a classic parody and involving the actual logo of the agency. And so I changed the logo up a little bit. Instead of the United States of America, I put the NSA, peeping while you’re sleeping which is sort of an homage to Snoop Doggy Dog, which I thought was funny with the whole snoop part. And at the bottom it said “The NSA, the only part of government that actually listens”.
So I put that up, got a giggle a little bit while I’m doing it. So I put it up and I thought this will make a good shirt. Hours later I was contacted by my manufacturer and they told me that indeed, they had been contacted by the NSA to take the shirt down. It had been an infringement of their intellectual property rights.
Jason Hartman: Unbelievable. So here’s the funny thing about IP. With most IP when it comes from, I think it’s called just the government printing office, where they create all sorts of pamphlets and brochures and the IRS has all sorts of reports on their website, and as far as I know (And I’m not an attorney-I always like to make that disclaimer), but as far as I know, all these things are in a public domain. And therefore American tax payers can use them anyway they wish. But it’s funny how they were wanting to protect the NSA’s intellectual property, their logo in this case, right?
Dan McCall: Right. Exactly. A very curious thing was that when I got that report from them back from the manufacturer, it was a very curious thing because anyone who goes to Washington DC or on the mall, you can see vendors everywhere and they’re selling things like FBI shirts, NSA shirts, all sorts of memorabilia like that.
Jason Hartman: It’s making me think Dan that soon they’ll say that the American flag is their intellectual property and their trademark, and we don’t get to use that one either.
Dan McCall: Right. At what point do we actually have to get permission to use even the ideas? Is it going to be that the first amendment is going to be copyrighted at some point? It’s a bizarre thing that we ran up against. And essentially what they were using was an authority from a law that looked like it was from 1958, I believe. It was a small little subsection – basically the law they were using said that you needed to have permission from the director of the NSA to use the word NSA, National Security Agency, or any image that would represent the logo.
Jason Hartman: Well then certainly this is a case of selective enforcement. Because I really doubt that every movie, documentary and film producer, TV show that uses CIA or NSA logos, or talks about the NSA in numerous movies, I really doubt they’ve received their permission to do that.
Dan McCall: Right. It was such an odd thing. And the interesting thing, when we started to find out what was going on was partly how difficult it was to find out. The manufacturer in this case was literally so afraid that their legal department would not even give us the documents, the original cease and desist. We had to go through a discovery phase, and actually they dictated the cease and desist letters over the phone. And in the process we found out that actually wasn’t the only cease and desist. We had gotten one also from the department of Homeland Security and their authority that they were claiming to have was that there was a law in the books that stated that we couldn’t deface their logo.
I had made a shirt that was basically just a silly shirt that said “The Department of Homeland Stupidity” sort of replicating their logo and putting a dunce cap on there, and so on and so forth. And so they had issued one as well. The funny thing is that the manufacturer had not even told me that they had gotten this stuff. So it took a long sort of discovery phase before we even found out sort of the depth that this thing had gone.
Jason Hartman: Okay, so let me ask a question. First of all Dan, how do you think they found out you were making these T-shirts and bumper stickers? Did you produce any of them before they tried to stop you or are they just listening to all your conversations and reading all your Emails with your manufacturer?
Dan McCall: I think in this case, it’s that they went and the manufacturer that I was using is a third party manufacturer that literally hundreds of different brands from Disney to everyone else uses, and they have a market place themselves. So I think that’s just what they did. They selectively in whatever way they found it, they found this merchandise on this manufacturers market place just like they might have found it on Amazon.com or something like that. Basically Google Searching it. And they found…
Jason Hartman: Well they’re not Google Searching it probably. That’s what concerns me. They’re basically looking at every time their name is used on the internet. And so when they saw their massive computers that are eavesdropping on literally everything we all do all the time in every country on the planet. The NSA has bugged the whole human race, not just the United States. So something came up and it went up the chain and probably went through a few chains of computer data banks analyzing it, and then it went to a human and then it went to another human and then it went to the legal department and they said hey, let’s sue this guy. Is that pretty much how it all worked probably?
Dan McCall: That’s the way it sounds like. At first looking at it I figured that it would basically go up that electronic chain that you’re talking about, and then maybe some analyst or some bean counter had looked at it and said well, it technically falls… let’s just send a cease and desist, which is outrageous in and of itself. But as the story had come out by the end of last year it had hit international press, it had hit the Wall St journal , it had been all over. And over and over the same public response from the NSA was that well we believe that we have the authority to basically flex our muscles and take anything down that misrepresents the NSA.
Jason Hartman: But here’s the interesting thing. It doesn’t misrepresent the NSA.
Dan McCall: No, it doesn’t.
Jason Hartman: It represents exactly what the NSA is doing which is spying on us.
Dan McCall: Right. And it wouldn’t have been funny otherwise. It wouldn’t have been funny in a time when I think people have become so cynical, I think for good reason, of their government’s response to anything that they want right now. And then we find out that literally like you’ve said before about every electronic transaction or anything that we do can be scanned with Meta data and tracked and basically listened to.
So we’re finding out just now that it looks like the NSA has had access to Yahoo users’ video for years. And I think the story has finally come out this week, but people have been talking about this for years. It’s an incredible sort of situation. Some of us have kind of may have thought that this was possible before but yeah, I don’t think the joke would have been funny if it wasn’t true. They seem to be the only part of government that’s actually really listening.
Jason Hartman: Unbelievable. So tell us about this litigation. So they didn’t send you a cease and desist letter or they did? Or they would only call you because they didn’t want you to have this letter that you could scan and post all over the internet.
Dan McCall: Exactly. It wasn’t until actually Tuesday of this week that I, and I’m going to frame this bad boy, I finally got as part of the settlement that happened, I get the actual cease and desist letter. So they sent that to me and they actually resent the original cease and desist letters and sent those letters off to the manufacturer. So the way it happened was that they did send it. They sent it to this third party and I had no knowledge of it whatsoever.
And so they sort of talk about the hushing effect or the chilling effect that these agencies, specifically the NSA have had when they issue these things. Whether it be a takedown notice or a formal cease and desist, people seem to comply, or a lot of people comply. A lot of people don’t want to deal with it. It seemed to me that the legal staff of the manufacturer was very hesitant to speak about anything because they really did not speak.
A wall came down and these were people I had worked with for 7-8 years very closely. And they were not saying anything. So that was one reason that I thought it was a very important case to sort of move forward with, because the effect that it has on the internet, and on not only commerce and the first amendment, but just in terms of communication, were very important I thought.
Jason Hartman: It’s chilling, obviously. So they really did sue you. They served you with a formal law suit, is that correct?
Dan McCall: Well actually they threatened legal proceedings if the manufacturer didn’t follow their cease and desist on my items. When I found out that a cease and desist had been issued, or two of them had of taking down my items, I ended up suing them. I sued the NSA jointly with the Department of Homeland Security in violation of my first amendment rights. So that went… we went back and forth. It became evident by about New years of this year that they were not going to want to go to trial with this, and so they offered a settlement. And so we went back and forth with that. We kind of gave them our demands and they ended up agreeing to it. And last week they finally formally signed all the papers and made it formal.
Jason Hartman: Very interesting. So how much money did you spend suing them?
Dan McCall: Luckily we teamed up very early on with the guys over at Public Citizen. And it was kind of a neat situation because public citizen sort of leans a little leftward I think. And definitely a lot of things that they’ve dealt with in the past aren’t something that have really been in my wheel house. But this issue I think was one of these things that people from all different perspectives could really agree upon. So I thought it was neat when the lawyer Paul L. Levy who was a really good lawyer with them and has dealt with a lot of these issues before in the past, he jumped on and they did a lot of this stuff pro bono. So they really got to the bottom of it and they were really pit bulls going after this. So in terms of…
Jason Hartman: So public citizen acts in some ways then like the ACLU, in that they’ll litigate cases? They’ll actually file lawsuits or defend lawsuits just like the ACLU does, right?
Dan McCall: Indeed. And in a lot of ways they take on cases similar. I had contact with the ACLU and other groups like them and it was really Public Citizen that was willing to take this thing on. And I would have probably tried to do it myself as well but I have no idea how much it would have cost in the end or how long it was. It was one of those things where I don’t know how many millions it could have cost if they wanted to sort of push this further and sort of drag their feet. One thing I didn’t understand really quick, really early, was that it was important to let people know what was going on and the response was amazing after that. Like I said, it did hit national press and just the outpouring of support from people literally from all over the world, but mostly in the United States was just great and it definitely gave me some confidence to do it.
Jason Hartman: So how far through the litigation did you go? Did you have depositions of NSA people?
Dan McCall: They didn’t get that far, no. Once we got through the discovery, they filed in Maryland federal court and a few, I suppose it was about a month afterwards they came to us looking to settle.
Jason Hartman: And so, what was the settlement like? Did they give you any money? Did they repay the cost of Public Citizen’s lawyers?
Dan McCall: No, we just looked for basically… I did ask that they pay for the court filing fees, because of course we had the filing fees for Maryland so we did that. And to have our attorney’s costs in terms of them being able to file to be part of this suit in Maryland in that district. So I think it was just $500 was what we asked for. But then what we wanted to do was basically clarify where we stood in terms of using parody. So we needed them to admit and retract the original cease and desist and basically write that in this case specifically and in general that parody is very a legal and supported first amendment right that we have.
Jason Hartman: Very interesting, very interesting. So where do you stand now? Have you got all the same… did you bend at all?
Dan McCall: No, actually throughout the whole process what I did was, I use various manufacturers, so I just decided to keep the shirts available, specifically the ones that were censored by the NSA and continue to sell them as a sort of… people were looking for a little piece of civil disobedience and I was certainly willing to keep those up and sort of resist their arm twisting. So we continued to do that. One thing that I’m changing I think in the future is I’m just starting to do more manufacturing in house. So one thing that I learned is I want to keep sort of a supply like safe. I don’t want to have one of these situations where my stuff is being messed with legally and I don’t know where and how it’s being messed with. And especially if a cease and desist is coming from the government, I want it to come from my doorstep and not anyone else’s.
Jason Hartman: Well that’s good, but maybe you ought to just have your manufacturing done in China where in many ways they’re more free than we are in some ways. In an extensively communist country now, listen I don’t really think that. I am being somewhat sarcastic. I have a friend that lives in China that’s very critical of our government and I think he’s out of his mind. I think it’s still better here. But in some ways… look at Jim Rogers talking about how in China you’re more free than you are in the states. And in some ways that is true actually, unfortunately.
Dan McCall: Yeah, in some ways, right?
Jason Hartman: Well tell me what else you’re working on. You’ve got all sorts of… I mean, you’re an activist beyond manufacturing these great shirts and bumper stickers and so forth, you’re an activist right?
Dan McCall: Yeah, I think it’s important to sort of use your art for a purpose. And I like to do all sorts of different art, and this stuff is one aspect of what I do. but I’m really interested in using art and using design and things like that to sort of help causes that I feel are very important and need help in that regard. So I’ve worked a little bit with the Snowden defense people themselves, to sort of help get the whole issue of not only what freedom is, but in terms of privacy rights and things like that, work with them graphically and stuff like that. I’ve worked with WikiLeaks and I’ve had a long history of working with Dr. Paul and doing some things for his campaigns and promoting those. Because I just think it’s a powerful thing. Years ago I guess I started doing all this because I didn’t see many entrepreneurs out there… you kind of want to get shirts, you want to get some stuff like this but you didn’t see what you wanted and you think well hell, maybe I’ll start doing some of this stuff myself.
And after that it became almost intoxicating. It was so fun to do. So yeah, I’m trying to build some stuff with some other artists around the world right now and do some shows out in Europe and stuff like that, and sort of bring some of these issues that you don’t see in the mainstream, you don’t see them dealt with. And like you said, Snowden, I personally think that what he did was heroic. There’s a lot of contention from a lot of people whether that is or not, and mostly in the United States I think.
Jason Hartman: Well I have yet… look, I understand our government needs to keep some secrets, okay? And I don’t have a problem with that because at the end of the day, I’m an American and I vote for America. I just believe it should be more along the lines of the original intent for America rather than the bastardized version which it has unfortunately become. However, I have yet to see some evidence or something substantial in any way that Snowden has actually hurt, our national defense opportunities or prospects with his leak. He may well have something on his many hard drives that could be damaging but I have never read or heard or seen any evidence at all that he’s released anything like that. Have you? Honestly, I know what side you’re on but have you ever seen or heard of anything that he’s actually done that has been anything beyond helping US citizens defend themselves against their own government?
Dan McCall: Absolutely not, no. it’s been one of those things where he’s been brought to light with these things, and it sounds like they’re heavily vetted and it sounds like he has a lot of information but nothing that he’s put out there has done anything to hurt the American citizens. Now certainly maybe the reputation of maybe the intelligence agencies involved in some of these things, the reputations of maybe our leaders and political leaders that actively allow and ignore these things. But in terms of our security or anything else I don’t think that there’s been anything that would justify certainly the label of trader or some of these other things that they call him which I think are silly.
So when I see something like that, like Manning and others that I think are doing important things and putting themselves on the line, I definitely like to actively support those things and try to help bring awareness to them in my own way if I can. But yeah, those are some other things that I continue to do as long as I’m not in Guantanamo or something like that.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, right. You know, this could have gone down another way. They could have had you arrested, they could have tried you in a Fisa Court that would be behind the iron curtain essentially, and you could be in prison somewhere without any rights whatsoever, which our government has the right to do, scarily. Secret prisons, secret courts – this is unconscionable.
Dan McCall: It really is. It’s the type of thing growing up as a kid and we’d watch these shows and we’d learn about the Soviet Union and things like that and…
Jason Hartman: And here we are.
Dan McCall: And here we are, the same kind of things that my dad would wave his finger and say well in Russia they can take you off to the Gulag for just having an unpopular opinion. Well here we are, it’s 2014 and we can actively say in this country that we love. . .I still think that there’s nowhere better in the world to live and that the opportunities are amazing, otherwise I’d live somewhere else. But we can honestly have a conversation about how this kind of thing is possible, about how having an unpopular conversation can bring you to essentially a Gulag in America. So it’s just an incredible thing.
Jason Hartman: It’s really insane. Well hey, give out your website Dan. Tell people where they can buy some of this stuff. Everybody look, if you support the views that Dan has been talking about here which are freedom, individual liberty, transparency for the government, I love what Julian Assange said about it; he said, “Transparency for the organization, privacy for the individual”, which the NSA is the complete opposite of that. It’s transparency for the individual and privacy for the organization.
If you believe in that, even if you don’t want to wear any of his T-shirts or anything just buy some of them to support the cause, okay? And support someone who’s going to be out there putting this message out there, taking our government to task, holding them accountable. And it’s not to say that everything the government does is bad, some things the government does is very good and I support that but we have to be forever vigilant. That’s what our founding fathers wanted us to do so get some of his T-shirts and his bumper stickers. And I’m not an affiliate – I don’t get paid for that. I’m just saying. Give out your website, Dan.
Dan McCall: Well thanks Jason. The website is LibertyManiacs.com – it’s sort of freedom products for liberty lovers. And you’ve got thousands of different things. So even if you’re not into T-shirts and things like that, we’ve just got about everything on that. So I really appreciate being on Jason, and I had a ball talking to you.
Jason Hartman: Well I was having breakfast with one of my clients, I have a real estate investment company, it’s another business I own, and one of our clients I was having breakfast with her and she was wearing your NSA logo, the sweatshirt and then I saw her again at another one of our events and she’s wearing that shirt and I’m like thumbs up to that, I think that’s awesome. Good stuff. So LibertyManiacs.com, and Dan thanks for joining us today.
Dan McCall: Thanks so much.
Narrator: Thank you for joining us today for the Holistic Survival Show. Protecting the people, places and profits you care about in uncertain times. Be sure to listen to our Creating Wealth Show, which focuses on exploiting the financial and wealth creation opportunities in today’s economy. Learn more at www.JasonHartman.com or search “Jason Hartman” on iTunes. This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company, offering very general guidelines and information. Opinions of guests are their own, and none of the content should be considered individual advice. If you require personalized advice, please consult an appropriate professional. Information deemed reliable, but not guaranteed.
Transcribed by Ralph
Guest: Dan McCall
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