WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Minnesota activist is once again facing the heat for his parody merchandise. Today, in response to a demand from a representative at the “Ready for Hillary” PAC to take down a parody design, Public Citizen sent a letter (PDF) stating that activist Dan McCall’s merchandise does not violate any intellectual property rights and is fully protected by the First Amendment.
The PAC sent notices to Zazzle.com and Cafepress.com – two online merchants – demanding they remove McCall’s design that pokes fun at the PAC’s slogan. McCall’s design, which was being sold on T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers and more, altered the slogan “I’m Ready for Hillary,” to “I’m Ready for Oligarchy.”
Both companies have taken down the parodied merchandise; however, the letter today argues that McCall’s design is protected both under the intellectual property laws as well as the First Amendment. The Ready for Hillary PAC is an independent expenditure committee not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.
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“This is similar to cases we have seen in the past,” said Paul Alan Levy, attorney at Public Citizen. “Parodied merchandise, as the one in this case, does not violate any laws. The Ready for Hillary PAC needs to recognize Dan McCall’s First Amendment rights and rescind its issued notices.”
This isn’t the first time McCall has had to defend his rights as a parodist. In 2011, both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent cease-and-desist letters to Zazzle demanding they remove McCall’s satirical merchandise that used the agencies seals. After a 2013 lawsuit, filed by Public Citizen on behalf of McCall, NSA and DHS acknowledged that the merchandise does not violate federal law and McCall defended his right to continue selling the merchandise.
In the letter sent today, Public Citizen has given the PAC three days to retract its takedown demand. Absent a retraction, Public Citizen will file an action for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement, seeking damages for lost sales and an award of attorneys fees for the issuance of a frivolous takedown.