Thinking of making money from the PRISM logo? Think twice

The PRISM logo,
as published by The Guardian
While the PRISM data mining [note to self: it is probably the first time that the IPKat uses this term out of copyright (only)-related context] scandal is unfolding following revelations by the The Guardian and the Washington Post that US National Security Agency (NSA) not only appears to have collected the telephone records of millions of US Verizon customers under a top secret court order issued in April, but may also have direct access (here and here) to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants (top executives at these corporations have however denied any involvement), there appears to be also a PRISM IP-related story to tell.

Among other things, The Guardian disclosed what it called the "really freaky logo" used for the PRISM program. Besides spotting a series of similarities with the Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album cover and the US government's Information Awareness Office logo, the British newspaper described the logo as somehow indicative of the program's undisclosed mission: 

"we collect the white light of the world's personal data – all of it – and refract it into an array of information we can use to keep America safe. One colour is evil foreigners plotting terrorist atrocities, the other is your Facebook photos and your internet dating profile. We never get them mixed up. The whole logo is surrounded by an irregular polygon that vaguely resembles a key. It's like something a Bond villain might put on his website."

Allegedly infringing PRISM T-shirt
An American dude named Max Read, who describes himself as an "entrepreneurial, small-business job-creator type", made the following reasoning: 

"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 this?"

Smartly enough, Mr Read turned to apparel and realised that he could use the PRISM logo as published by The Guardian to create PRISM T-shirts on

Following the PRISM T-shirt success story, Read thought of creating more products bearing the PRISM logo (including an iPhone case and a hoodie) and opened a Zazzle store that he called PRISMMerchadise.

Sales were high (over the course of Friday only Read made $7), until someone thought of throwing a monkey wrench in the works. 

Read received an email from informing him that it would remove his PRISM NSA T-Shirt from the Zazzle Marketplace, as this contained "content that is in conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines". In particular,

"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."
What can these infringement claims be? This Kat has done some (very little) research online and 
PRISM CAT T-shirt,
available on
found out that:
  • A US Government work is not subject to copyright in the US and there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, derivative works, distribution, performance or display of the work.  
  • You cannot use US government trademarks [although there are several PRISM trademarks registered with the USPTO, none of them seem to be owned by the US government] or the logos of US government agencies [eg the NSA?] without permission.
  • Works prepared for the US government by independent contractors [is this the case of PRISM?] may be protected by copyright, which may be owned by the independent contractor or by the US government.
  • While a US government work is not protectable under US copyright, the work may be protected under the copyright laws of other jurisdictions when used in these jurisdictions [eg the UK, since The Guardian disclosed the logo?]
  • Finally, three years ago the FBI asked Wikipedia to take down the FBI logo from the relevant entry, citing the law which prevents anyone from manufacturing, selling, or possessing any badge, identification card, or other insignia, of the design prescribed by the head of any US department or agency. 

It is clear that the mysteries surrounding the PRISM logo are (almost) as intriguing as the whole PRISM story. Are there any IP conspiracy theorists out there who would like to reveal which IP right(s) is (/are) most likely to be at stake here? 
Thinking of making money from the PRISM logo? Think twice Thinking of making money from the PRISM logo? Think twice Reviewed by Eleonora Rosati on Sunday, June 09, 2013 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. It looks as though one of my favourite UK TV Presenters, Adam Hart-Davis may have something to say about it... BoingBoing: Who's claiming copyright on the Prism logo?


All comments must be moderated by a member of the IPKat team before they appear on the blog. Comments will not be allowed if the contravene the IPKat policy that readers' comments should not be obscene or defamatory; they should not consist of ad hominem attacks on members of the blog team or other comment-posters and they should make a constructive contribution to the discussion of the post on which they purport to comment.

It is also the IPKat policy that comments should not be made completely anonymously, and users should use a consistent name or pseudonym (which should not itself be defamatory or obscene, or that of another real person), either in the "identity" field, or at the beginning of the comment. Current practice is to, however, allow a limited number of comments that contravene this policy, provided that the comment has a high degree of relevance and the comment chain does not become too difficult to follow.

Learn more here:

Powered by Blogger.