Dan McCall, a Minnesota artist and satirist, is known for productions which often target the U.S. government as social commentaries. However, when his target became the National Security Agency (NSA), he got more than laughs. He received a cease and desist notice from the Department of Justice.
What did the NSA and DOJ want McCall to stop producing, claiming a copyright violation? This:
Note: you can find more of McCall's productions on his website.
Rather than back down, as most would understandably do, McCall decided to challenge the U.S. government in court, claiming that his First Amendment rights were being violated for his implicit Fourth Amendment critique. And after a three-year legal battle, the DOJ has finally backed down, giving McCall a clear First Amendment victory:
WCCO in Minnesota interviewed McCall, who related his motivation for standing up for his political art:
“As serious as these issues get, you have to stand back and laugh at yourself, your country or your government. You have to discuss these things."
While dialogue and social commentary are what motivates McCall to create his work, his motivation to litigate was about one thing: standing up against the abuse of constitutional rights. And it's this goal which motivated the Public Citizen Litigation Group in D.C. to offer pro bono legal representation.
“Stand up for your rights,” Paul Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who took the case, said. “I think the message here is to stand up for your rights. Dan McCall did and he was vindicated and other people should do so as well.”
I think it's time that people stand up for themselves.
McCall will now go back to doing what he loves by creating satire and parodies with art – turning this bane of bureaucrats into a hero of free expression.
McCall says the legal battle had a chilling effect on other parody artists. A number of them refrained from posting anything critical of the NSA, fearing retribution.
“I think it’s time that people stand up for themselves.” McCall said.
It's a message which is being articulated, it seems, with greater frequency, particularly since Edward Snowden's whistleblowing.
It's nice to see this 'standing up' bear tangible results for once.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.
See gjohnsit's post from last year on this story.