Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government The Courts United States Wikipedia Your Rights Online

FBI Instructs Wikipedia To Drop FBI Seal 485

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the teach-the-seal-tricks dept.
eldavojohn writes "The FBI got in contact with Wikipedia's San Francisco office to inform them they were violating the law in regards to 'unauthorized production' of this seal. The FBI quoted the law as saying, 'Whoever possesses any insignia... or any colorable imitation thereof... shall be fined... or imprisoned... or both.' Wikipedia refused to take the image down and stated that the FBI was misquoting the law. The FBI claims that this production of this image is 'particularly problematic, because it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting violations of restrictions by Wikipedia users.' Wikipedia's lawyer, Mike Godwin (please omit certain jokes), contacted the FBI and asserted, 'We are compelled as a matter of law and principle to deny your demand for removal of the FBI Seal from Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons,' adding that the firm was 'prepared to argue our view in court.' Wikipedia appears to be holding their ground; we shall see if the FBI comes to their senses or proceeds with litigation."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

FBI Instructs Wikipedia To Drop FBI Seal

Comments Filter:
  • I guess... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:53AM (#33123630)

    that does it for all the movies and TV shows that display the FBI seal.

    Maybe they've been infiltrated by agents of the RIAA...

    • Re:I guess... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:02AM (#33123784)

      How can one know what an FBI seal looks like if he has NEVER seen one?

      • by eln (21727) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:14AM (#33124006) Homepage

        How can one know what an FBI seal looks like if he has NEVER seen one?

        I can see it now:

        An FBI agent knocks on some guy's door. The guy asks to see some ID, and the FBI agent produces his official FBI badge. The guy takes one look at it and says, "You can't fool me, that's a fake...it looks nothing like the ones on the X-Files!"

        • Re:I guess... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by muckracer (1204794) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:33AM (#33124304)

          > An FBI agent knocks on some guy's door. The guy asks to see some ID, and the FBI agent produces his official FBI badge. The guy takes one look at it and says,
          > "You can't fool me, that's a fake...it looks nothing like the ones on the X-Files!"

          That's actually an interesting point. How does one deal with authentication issues like that if faced with an Law-Enforcement officer? Sure they can...if they do things right, show you their badge but then what?

          1. Do you have a right to actually take that badge and/or ID into your hands to inspect it fully?

          2. Can you write the details down or make a scan/photo copy?

          3. If you do not believe the ID, the seal or badge (and officer) to be authentically what/who they claim to be, do you still have to do what they say (and can you be charged with, for example, resisting arrest if so)?

          4. If 3 is the case, what are the options to verify such ID's, seals etc.?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Surt (22457)

            You have the right to confirm their identity. They must let you take down the badge number, and call the fbi to confirm their identity, unless they have a warrant granting them other privileges, in which case they will just do what they have been authorized by a court to do.

            • Re:I guess... (Score:4, Interesting)

              by sjames (1099) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @02:18PM (#33127364) Homepage

              unless they have a warrant granting them other privileges, in which case they will just do what they have been authorized by a court to do.

              That's where the trouble starts. Until they are satisfactorily identified, they're just some potentially dangerous person (the badge may be a fake, but that's not a water pistol he's carrying) trying to violate your home. It's not unreasonable to take unwillingness to await proper confirmation as a sign that they are not authentic. When someone tries to push into your home, it is reasonable to use force to prevent them. If they should use force against you, it is reasonable to escalate. In many states there is no duty to retreat in your own home, so it can quickly escalate to deadly force.

              Thus, "no knock" warrants shouldn't exist except in the rare case where deadly force is justified per se.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Linker3000 (626634)
            How does one deal with authentication issues like that if faced with an Law-Enforcement officer?

            Aw. c'mon - look it up on Wikip...ah!
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by camperdave (969942)
            Do you have a right to actually take that badge and/or ID into your hands to inspect it fully?

            Several years ago I did a stint as a security guard. One of the things they taught us is that you never let anybody take your badge/ID card from you so that they can inspect it. They may look, but they may not handle.

            If you do not believe the ID, the seal or badge (and officer) to be authentically what/who they claim to be, do you still have to do what they say (and can you be charged with, for example, resi
          • Re:I guess... (Score:5, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:10PM (#33124944)

            In Texas all police officer ID's are required to have a telephone number that is available 24.7 to verify the officer's status. I let people see, touch, hold my IDs upon request. However, I would never allow a copy to be made for two big reasons: I don't want to make the ID easier to fake, and I don't want them having my picture, full name, etc to sell to drug cartels.

            Also, local/state police IDs are generally look like a 5th grader made it. If the ID looks really nice it is probably a fake.

          • Re:I guess... (Score:5, Informative)

            by Darth (29071) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:26PM (#33125150) Homepage

            1. In my experience, yes. The FBI agent I interacted with let me take his badge and look at it to my satisfaction.

            2. I didn't try to photo copy his badge, but i doubt he would have cared if i had written down his details.

            3. Not believing he's an agent does not make him not an agent and does not absolve you of your responsibilities regarding interacting with law enforcement. Also, you cannot be charged with resisting arrest unless they are arresting you for something already. I knew a guy in college who was arrested for resisting arrest and nothing else. The cop's commanding officer tore the cop apart when he tried to book him just for resisting arrest (my friend was released and the c.o. apologised to him...didn't give him a ride home though).

            4. generally you can call the fbi and they can verify the identity of the officer.

            How does one deal with authentication issues like that if faced with an Law-Enforcement officer? Sure they can...if they do things right, show you their badge but then what?

            1. Do you have a right to actually take that badge and/or ID into your hands to inspect it fully?

            2. Can you write the details down or make a scan/photo copy?

            3. If you do not believe the ID, the seal or badge (and officer) to be authentically what/who they claim to be, do you still have to do what they say (and can you be charged with, for example, resisting arrest if so)?

            4. If 3 is the case, what are the options to verify such ID's, seals etc.?

      • by saibot834 (1061528) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:39AM (#33124382) Homepage

        Initial letter from FBI [nytimes.com] and response by Wikimedia Foundation [nytimes.com]
          Wikipedia article in question [wikipedia.org], image in question [wikimedia.org].
          New York Times story [nytimes.com] (login [bugmenot.com]). Britannica uses the logo [britannica.com]

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Beezlebub33 (1220368)
          Hah! Try this: go to Google images and type in FBI seal. Guess how many frigging seals you will get? Hundreds, and some of them are really high quality. Consider, for example, this one [myfoxny.com]. What are they going to do? Going after wikipedia / commons for this is insane.
    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @02:01PM (#33127016) Homepage Journal

      that does it for all the movies and TV shows that display the FBI seal.

      (Door flys open, FBI agents jump in, guns drawn)

      Agent 1: "Drop that seal!"

      Wikipedia: "YIKES!" (Drops seal)

      Seal: "Ork! Ork! Ork!"

      Agent 2: "Look out! He has a penguin!"

      Linus: "Now look here, I'm innocent, I have nothing to do with this!"

  • Let it roll (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:54AM (#33123642)
    Streisand in 3... 2...
  • In Capitalist America, Wikipedia sues FBI?
  • Yes, THAT Godwin (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:55AM (#33123664)

    Wikipedia's lawyer Mike Godwin (please omit certain jokes)

    Yes, before anybody asks, it is indeed THAT Godwin, for whom the law is named.

  • by Manip (656104) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:57AM (#33123684)
    Well you know what they say, the grade C lawyers work for the government while the grade A lawyers work for everyone else. As someone remarked about on another site, you almost had to wonder why the FBI picked this little fights, and if someone mistakenly thought Wikipedia was somehow related to the now infamous Wikileaks. Even just reading the FBI's correspondence you can tell they're seriously out of their depth.
    • by langelgjm (860756) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:00AM (#33123750) Journal

      Also, this story probably shouldn't be tagged copyright. Assuming the seal was designed by the FBI itself, it's ineligible for copyright as a work of the federal government. (I guess in theory they could have purchased the design and copyright from a third party, but that seems unlikely). If there's a real law at stake, it's not copyright law, probably something to do with impersonating an official, etc.

      Next up, the FBI will be suing Lostpedia for its relationship to Wikileaks (using wiki software) and its name that sounds suspiciously similar to "pedophilia."

    • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@ ... a - h u dson.com> on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:05AM (#33123828) Journal
      So just hotlink to their site [fbi.gov] and tell them to go f***^Warrest themselves.

      Or, better yet, photoshop to these [fbi.gov] - and caption them as you wish. It expressly states

      High Resolution Photographs
      These materials are for your use in publicizing the FBI. No permissions are needed; please just credit the FBI. Click on the links below to download the high resolution images.

      Or just hotlink to them, along with your choice framed captions :-)

    • by Fantom42 (174630) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:34AM (#33124318)

      Well you know what they say, the grade C lawyers work for the government while the grade A lawyers work for everyone else. As someone remarked about on another site, you almost had to wonder why the FBI picked this little fights, and if someone mistakenly thought Wikipedia was somehow related to the now infamous Wikileaks. Even just reading the FBI's correspondence you can tell they're seriously out of their depth.

      I'm just curious if you read the law. Because it sure reads to me like Wikipedia is in violation of the letter of the law.

      TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 33 > &#167; 701
      &#167; 701. Official badges, identification cards, other insignia
      Whoever manufactures, sells, or possesses any badge, identification card, or other insignia, of the design prescribed by the head of any department or agency of the United States for use by any officer or employee thereof, or any colorable imitation thereof, or photographs, prints, or in any other manner makes or executes any engraving, photograph, print, or impression in the likeness of any such badge, identification card, or other insignia, or any colorable imitation thereof, except as authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

      The fact is that Wikipedia has a super high resolution print quality and SVG image of the seal which could be used to manufacture fake credentials. This fact might explain why they are going after Wikipedia and not other places. In fact the FBI letters suggests this much.

      I guess its easy to just unsubstantiatedly bash our government. At least you didn't start invoking conspiracy theories about this being some first step in the invokation of some quasi martial law state, like some other people have commented.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MarkGriz (520778)

      Indeed they do, or maybe they're just bored.

      I believe this is the relevant statute

      18USC709 [gpo.gov]

      Whoever, except with the written permission of the Director of the
      Federal Bureau of Investigation, knowingly uses the words ``Federal
      Bureau of Investigation'' or the initials ``F.B.I.'', or any colorable
      imitation of such words or initials, in connection with any
      advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play,
      motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, in a manner
      reasonably calculated

  • Their seal is in other media. As a matter of reporting and reporting on the seal itself. It's in encyclopedias. WTF?

    Clear this is one more government employee trying to justify his job. We're supporting far too many otherwise jobless people in the government. You hardly need more proof.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:58AM (#33123710)

    or does the seal kind of resemble Muhammad?

  • Ummm what? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:59AM (#33123728) Journal

    "Whoever possesses any insignia... or any colorable imitation thereof... shall be fined... or imprisoned... or both"

    Okay so I had to go and look this one up. Because there are so many ...'s that pretty much all of the information is missing. That sentence fracture they chose doesn't even mention any government insignia's, at first I thought ALL insignia's were outlawed.

    Anyways, so here's the full deal.

    Whoever manufactures, sells, or possesses any badge, identification card, or other insignia, of the design prescribed by the head of any department or agency of the United States for use by any officer or employee thereof, or any colorable imitation thereof, or photographs, prints, or in any other manner makes or executes any engraving, photograph, print, or impression in the likeness of any such badge, identification card, or other insignia, or any colorable imitation thereof, except as authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

    Sounds like the law is basically there to stop people from posing as federal agents. Having the Seal on the website might make it easier for people to design replicas (and where better to find information than Wikipedia) but on the other hand, how would I know what an authentic FBI badge looks like if I've never seen it before, so how would I know if I'm dealing with an imposter or not?

    • by talz13 (884474) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:09AM (#33123912)

      "Whoever possesses any insignia... or any colorable imitation thereof... shall be fined... or imprisoned... or both"

      Okay so I had to go and look this one up. Because there are so many ...'s that pretty much all of the information is missing. That sentence fracture they chose doesn't even mention any government insignia's, at first I thought ALL insignia's were outlawed.

      Anyways, so here's the full deal.

      Don't you know that the FBI has William Shatner as their lawyer? Those weren't omissions, they were just accurately quoting his speech!

    • by batquux (323697) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:09AM (#33123914)

      Wow, it's even worse than the original.. it should say:

      "Whoever ... possesses any ... insignia ... or any colorable imitation thereof ... shall be fined ... or imprisoned ... or both."

      This is fun, you could say:

      "... the head of any department or agency of the United States ... shall be ... imprisoned ... "

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Monchanger (637670)

      Sounds like the law is basically there to stop people from posing as federal agents. Having the Seal on the website might make it easier for people to design replicas

      That's obviously the original point of that law. Point is it's outdated and it's not much use today. If they really wanted to stop people from knowing what it looks like, why post it on their own site [fbi.gov]

      Having the Seal on the website might make it easier for people to design replicas ... but on the other hand, how would I know what an authentic FBI badge looks like if I've never seen it before, so how would I know if I'm dealing with an imposter or not?

      That's not a really a valid reason for the Wikipedia Foundation to inform the public, it would be solely the FBI's responsibility. And the average citizen still wouldn't know if they're dealing with a real agent even if they produce a perfect replica. That's why social engineering works so well and why enf

    • except as authorized under regulations made pursuant to law

      Ah, so we're good, then.

  • by The MAZZTer (911996) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [tzzagem]> on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:59AM (#33123730) Homepage

    This image is a work of a Federal Bureau of Investigation employee, taken or made during the course of an employee's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

    This image shows a flag, a coat of arms, a seal or some other official insignia. The use of such symbols is restricted in many countries. These restrictions are independent of the copyright status.

    Public domain from a copyright standpoint, but other restrictions apply. Unauthorized use of the FBI seal, name, and initials are subject to prosecution under Federal Criminal law, including 18 U.S.C 701, 709, and 712.

    So uh, what exactly is their legal standing for keeping it up there? There must be more to it, but I can see how the FBI could read this and decide to sue them. :)

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:57AM (#33124702) Homepage

      So uh, what exactly is their legal standing for keeping it up there? There must be more to it, but I can see how the FBI could read this and decide to sue them. :)

      What basis for Wikipedia to keep it up? Really?

      As the lawyer for Wikipedia points out in his reply [nytimes.com] to the FBI:

      I broadly hinted that ejusdem generis, a standard accepted canon of statutory
      construction, demonstrates that this statute is inapposite to the use of an image of the seal on an
      encyclopedia.

      If you're making a factual statement like "This is the FBI seal [wikipedia.org]", you're not exactly saying "I'm the FBI, fear me". Basically the lawyer thinks the FBI are willfully misreading/misrepresenting a statute to try to get wikipedia to pull something down which they are using as purely a reporting of facts.

      He also points out that they're selectively ignoring the words in the statute that circumscribe the applicability of the statute as cited by the FBI.

  • by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:59AM (#33123736)

    Mike Godwin (please omit certain jokes)

    You Nazi, stop restricting my free speech.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:59AM (#33123740)

    I guess all the criminals took the day off?

  • More Details (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lensman (21605) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:08AM (#33123900) Homepage

    NY Times has more [nytimes.com]. Including links to PDF's of the response. Parts of which are also quite funny: “While we appreciate your desire to revise the statute to reflect your expansive vision of it, the fact is that we must work with the actual language of the statute, not the aspirational version” that the F.B.I. had provided.

  • by somaTh (1154199) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:11AM (#33123928) Journal
    So, they can't use the FBI's symbol, but it's okay that they use The President's Seal [wikipedia.org], The NSA Seal [wikipedia.org], the CIA Seal [wikipedia.org], and the DoD's seal [wikipedia.org]? How does that begin to make sense?
  • T-shirt (Score:5, Funny)

    by boristdog (133725) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:21AM (#33124122)

    Does this mean I have to get rid of my Female Body Inspector T-shirt?

    But it WORKS, man! Some chicks actually believe it!

    Stupid cockblocking FBI.

  • by eepok (545733) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:25AM (#33124182) Homepage

    Ok, we use official seals to prove, or at least strongly suggest, the origin of authority. But what if someone comes to your door with "a" badge or "an" ID card you don't immediately recognize. Especially when dealing with someone in plain clothes, it would be rather beneficial to actually know which insignia is fake, which is real, and which comes from which department. But... if you aren't allowed to know in advance what an official insignia looks like, aren't you just making yourself susceptible to fraud?

  • The actual law.. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Binkleyz (175773) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:26AM (#33124192) Journal
    Just in case anyone wants to actually read it:
    Section 701 [cornell.edu] of Title 18 of the US Code
    Section 709 [cornell.edu] of Title 18 of the US Code
    Section 712 [cornell.edu] of Title 18 of the US Code
  • by SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:27AM (#33124216)

    The FBI must think that Wikipedia and Wikileaks are connected somehow.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:32AM (#33124296)

    I am a graphic designer for a TV station. We subscribe to the Associated Press's Graphics Bank service. The same seal is available for download in high resolution. Is AP breaking the law? Am I breaking the law whenever I put the FBI logo on air for a story about the FBI??

  • by marphod (41394) <galens+slashdot@marphod. n e t> on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:46AM (#33124496)

    I'll admit, I couldn't find a high-res image on the FBI seal in the 2 minutes I spent searching there, but the seal isn't overly complex, doesn't have micro text or any other anti-counterfeiting features.

    However, this image, http://www.fbi.gov/libref/historic/fbiseal/images/fbiseal-02-02.gif [fbi.gov], is a fairly decent image and can easily be used to produce a better, larger image. (The image is slightly obfuscated by the web page dis-allowing right clicks. Good going, guys. Security by obscurity for the Win. I mean Lose.)

    However, more interesting to me is this high-res image: http://www.fbi.gov/multimedia/images/equipment/badge&gun.jpg [fbi.gov]

    A high resolution image of an FBI badge. Yeah. They're concerned that a web image of their seal can be used illegally, but a badge? That's nothing to worry about. Move along.

  • by jbeach (852844) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:20PM (#33125056) Homepage Journal
    Ian Copeland, the brother of one of the world's greatest drummers Stewart Copeland, got into business as a promoter. Riffing off of Stewart's band "The Police", and his other brother Miles' company the IRS (Illegal Records Syndicate), he decided to call it the FBI - Frontier Bookings International.

    He was soon visited by a couple of FBI agents who told him he'd have to change the company's name. He basically laughed them out of the office, and then discovered REM.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Copeland [wikipedia.org]

    http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/5-30-2006-97810.asp [buzzle.com]

    As a side note, all three brothers were fond of names that played with stern authorities, because they found out later in life their father was actually a covert agent for the CIA.
  • by adenied (120700) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:39PM (#33125376)

    IANAL but a quick review of case law brings up United States v Goeltz (1975, CA10 Utah), cert den (1975) 423 US 830 which basically said Enactment of 18 USCS 701 was intended to protect public against use of recognizable assertion of authority with intent to deceive.

    Of course how a judge in another jurisdiction would look at this 35 years later is hard to say.

    If Wikipedia is actually forced to remove the offending image it could be applied to insignias of any other government agency. I wonder if it would apply to the Great Seal of the United States.

  • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:46PM (#33125474)

    I gave my Mom a call -- first time I've used that resource on Slashdot -- but she's the only person I know who still has a paper encyclopedia in the house. I asked her to look up the FBI. Interestingly enough, her copy of the "World Book" doesn't have a reproduction of the seal in the article. Just a picture of a couple of cadets at the training academy.

    Don't know if they didn't include that because of this law or it just didn't make the cut given the space available. Either way, it's not there. I'd be interested in knowing if any other publisher includes the seal in the FBI entry.

    And no, I don't live in her basement and she wasn't at your house, either.

  • by adenied (120700) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @01:10PM (#33125852)

    This section, 18 USC 701, has it's origins in the Act June 29, 1932, ch 306, 47 Stat. 342. The text as passed in 1932 is essentially the same as we have it today with some minor modifications. The bill was H.R. 10590 of the 72d Congress and the accompanying House Report was H. Rept. 72-1044. It's only a single page but it quotes an informative letter from the Attorney General from December 7, 1931:

    It has come to the notice of the department that it is possible for any unauthorized person to procure from certain merchants or manufacturers badges and other insignia similar to or identical with those prescribed for the use of officers of the United States. You can readily appreciate the prejudice to the public occasioned by the use and possession of such badges and insignia by unauthorized persons.

    That would indicate to me, along with the opinion in United States v Goeltz 513 F2d 193 (1975, CA10 Utah), cert. den. 423 US 830 (1975), that the FBI is overstepping the intent of the law here.

  • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @01:14PM (#33125928)

    The FBI's page has a section on copyrights which links to the DOJ website. There's a section that discuss the use of seals and logos. Nowhere does it state that the unauthorized use of these marks will result in fines or imprisonment. It merely states that permission must be requested before using them. I'd say the risk of imprisonment comes if you use the seal to pass yourself as an FBI agent, but then that's another matter altogether.

    The fact that the Wikipedia site features an SVG of the seal may be a little problematic. It makes it trivial to print high quality copies of the thing. I did a quick search of Google Images and while plenty of seals came up, none were anywhere near the quality of this one on Wikipedia. But the solution seems simple, replace it and a somewhat smaller JPG. But even then, it's a minor issue, someone with patience and skill could sit down in Illustrator and recreate the thing.

    Despite all this, given that this is a government agency and Wikipedia an informational site what rules govern this case? I fail to see how the FBI has any case at all.

No skis take rocks like rental skis!

Working...