Want to buy a PRISM t-shirt? You can't: Someone is claiming copyright over the logo of the vast NSA surveillance operation, and they took down my Zazzle store.
Like all real Americans, I am an entrepreneurial, small-business job-creator type, so when I learned that the NSA was collecting immense amounts of data from nearly every major tech company on the planet, my first thought was: How can I make a buck off of this?
Naturally I turned to apparel. Zazzle.com is a company that allows you to design and sell your own t-shirts and other products. (For examples of the possibilities afforded, see the wonderful Zazzle Poetry.) I grabbed the PRISM logo from The Guardian's website, slapped in on a white tee, and put it up for sale.
Positive response on Twitter led me to add more products: a mug, an iPhone case, and a black hoodie. I set up a Zazzle store—PRISMMerchandise—and over the course of Friday sold two tees and two mugs, for a grand total of seven dollars. I was in business.
Until Uncle Sam stepped in.
Late last night I received this email (as the NSA likely knows):
Thank you for your interest in Zazzle.com, and thank you for publishing products on Zazzle.
Unfortunately, it appears that your product, PRISM NSA T-Shirt - #Rare PRISM Shirt SPIES, contains content that is in conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines.
We will be removing this product from the Zazzle Marketplace shortly.
Please help us make our content approval process better by taking this short survey.
The details of the product being removed are listed below:
Product Title: PRISM NSA T-Shirt - #Rare PRISM Shirt SPIES
Product Type: zazzle_shirt
Product ID: 235336285725181211
Result: Not Approved
Policy Notes: Design contains an image or text that may infringe on intellectual property rights. We have been contacted by the intellectual property right holder and we will be removing your product from Zazzle’s Marketplace due to infringement claims.
If you have any questions or concerns about the review of your product, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be happy to provide you with additional support.
Content Review Team
I received the same notice for PRISMMerchandise's other three products as well.
Theoretically, the logo is the work of the U.S. government, which has not officially acknowledged the PRISM program.
But it had to have been the feds. No one else has any claim to the logo. (While in most circumstances, U.S. government works aren't protected by copyright laws, federal law bans "the manufacture, sale or possession of items bearing the insignia of federal offices"—not that this has stopped other Zazzle shop owners.)
I've emailed Zazzle's "content review team" to find out who contacted it claiming to be the rights-holder of the PRISM logo, and will update the post when I hear back. Until then, you will have to do your own screen-printing.
Update: The photo in the logo isn't clip art, but rather taken from a library of free photos by science writer and presenter Adam Hart-Davis—who's on vacation, and unlikely to be trawling Zazzle for copyright violations.
[image via Zazzle]