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This discussion has been archived.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:
  • Yes, THAT Godwin (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @09:55AM (#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.

  • Ummm what? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @09:59AM (#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 tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@b ... h u d s o n .com> on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:05AM (#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 tepples (727027) <<tepples> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:06AM (#33123844) Homepage Journal

    As far as I know there has never been a show that had the actual FBI symbol.

    The members of the MPAA have a license to use the FBI seal [fbi.gov] in the unskippable intros of their DVDs.

  • More Details (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lensman (21605) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:08AM (#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.

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

    by Binkleyz (175773) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:26AM (#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
  • Re:I guess... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:29AM (#33124234)

    For video games, it was only arcade games that showed the FBI seal, and it was for the Winners Don't Use Drugs [wikipedia.org] slogan.

  • by Fantom42 (174630) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:34AM (#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.

  • by saibot834 (1061528) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:39AM (#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]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:43AM (#33124452)

    No, it is part of the Executive Branch [wikipedia.org], under the Department of Justice [wikipedia.org].

  • by tepples (727027) <<tepples> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:45AM (#33124484) Homepage Journal
    User operation prohibition on DVDs [wikipedia.org]. If your DVD player ignores them, it may be in violation of the DVD format license.
  • by Civil_Disobedient (261825) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:46AM (#33124518)

    except as authorized under regulations made pursuant to law

    Ah, so we're good, then.

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:48AM (#33124560)

    Assuming that with "BBC" you mean the British Broadcasting Corporation, I don't think American laws matter a lot for them (except for material they sell there).

    Because the US government never pursues what it perceived to be criminal violations of US law if they are committed by people outside the borders of the US at the time of the offense. Just ask Manuel Noriega.

    At any rate, other media outlets covering the story also display the seal, including Vanity Fair [vanityfair.com] and The New York Times [nytimes.com], which presumably are more exposed to US criminal laws than the BBC.

  • Re:I guess... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Surt (22457) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:52AM (#33124612) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:57AM (#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 digitig (1056110) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:58AM (#33124722)

    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.

    Look at Wikipedia's response, which explains why they believe the FBI to be misinterpreting the letter of the law.

  • by MarkGriz (520778) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:05AM (#33124852)

    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 to convey the impression that such advertisement,
    circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture,
    broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or
    authorized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation;

    So, unless Wikipedia is pretending to "be" the FBI, this is just a waste of taxpayer money.

  • Re:I guess... (Score:3, Informative)

    by zach_the_lizard (1317619) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:06AM (#33124864)
    It's funny that in my state (Virginia) I can walk into a gun dealership and buy a semi-auto rifle, yet I can't have a switchblade. I can also get a concealed carry permit to carry around a handgun, but concealing a stiletto is not OK. IIRC, if you can find one old enough, you can still get automatic weapons. I would comment on the logic of this, but then again, this is Congress we are talking about.
  • Re:I guess... (Score:3, Informative)

    by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:09AM (#33124916) Journal
    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, resisting arrest if so)?

    what are the options to verify such ID's, seals etc.


    Very good question. One I've asked myself many times before. I believe that police have certain procedures and policies as to what constitutes identifying yourself as an officer. If they follow their guidelines then any lack of cooperation on your part might be open to being interpreted as resisting arrest. That covers things as far as they're concerned. However, it does little to answer the real question: how does a civilian verify a badge.
  • Re:I guess... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:10AM (#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.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:14AM (#33125000) Homepage

    Since you know very little about forging, I'll enlighten you.

    Most of the time the quality of the graphic has NOTHING to do with the pass ability of the document or id. Most of the time a utterly crappy ID or paperwork will do it;s job great. 99% of the time its your social engineering using the props to get past the checkpoint or door...

    Example? sure: I got into a Concert for free, not only free but also bacK stage. I was not authorized to be there, I did not know anyone there. I approached the gate with all my camera gear and my big lanyard full of press badges I made, and some real but from previous years at other venues. I flashed the wad and asked, "where do I go to get back stage" I was pointed the way and not even asked anything... I'm now inside the venue past the gates.

    I take a bunch of photos, some really cool ones. I wander over to the backstage entrance and to the 7 foot tall 6 foot wide man mountain placed there to physically throw people. I dont even flash anything but stand in front of him reviewing images, changed batteries and lens, and then asked, "Is it just like last time? I only get 10 minutes on stage to shoot the photos and then back off to the shadows for the rest?"

    he looked at me, opened the gate and pointed at the stage manager.. I wandered in talked to the manager and was able to go backstage and take photos of the band getting ready.

    I was not supposed to be there, I had no business being there. AND I got photos that nunya got!

    It's all in the look, demeanor, and social engineering. Having a high quality replica of a seal is not worth as much as being able to BS your way through.

  • by jbeach (852844) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:20AM (#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.
  • Re:I guess... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Darth (29071) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:26AM (#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 adenied (120700) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:39AM (#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 adenied (120700) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:10PM (#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 @12:14PM (#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.

  • Re:I guess... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Montezumaa (1674080) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:15PM (#33125942)

    You can actually possess most any full-automatic firearm, if you have the proper "permit" and have paid the proper "transfer tax". You can also possess silencers, "sawed-off" shotguns, etc, if you have the proper licensing and paid the taxes required.

    Of course, where it will cost government about $1800 USD per weapon, it will cost citizens about $20,000 USD. That is the way our government works; they out-price rights they cannot stop in legislation.

  • Re:I guess... (Score:3, Informative)

    by MartinSchou (1360093) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:27PM (#33126208)

    Then you're not really letting them in because of their warrant, are you? More like the perceived threat of lethal force if you do not cooperate.

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

    by DJRumpy (1345787) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:33PM (#33126392)

    It cites the law the FBI quoted. That does not mean the quoted law applies. They also cite this on the image URL:

    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.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US-FBI-ShadedSeal.svg [wikipedia.org]

    In order for the FBI law to have bearing, I believe Wiki's defense is that they basically state right on the image page that it is a public domain image, they cite the laws prohibiting specific uses of the image, which pretty much prevents anyone from misunderstanding that their looking at an image of the seal, not the official seal.

    U.S.C. 701 would seem to refer to 709 and 712, neither of which would apply here. Wiki is not misrepresenting itself as a government agency (709), or attempting to convey the false impression that such communication is from a department, agency, bureau, or instrumentality of the United States (712).

    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.

      709. False advertising or misuse of names to indicate Federal agency

      712. Misuse of names, words, emblems, or insignia
    Whoever, in the course of collecting or aiding in the collection of private debts or obligations, or being engaged in furnishing private police, investigation, or other private detective services, uses or employs in any communication, correspondence, notice, advertisement, or circular the words “national”, “Federal”, or “United States”, the initials “U.S.”, or any emblem, insignia, or name, for the purpose of conveying and in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the false impression that such communication is from a department, agency, bureau, or instrumentality of the United States or in any manner represents the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

  • Re:I guess... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Blakey Rat (99501) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @01:01PM (#33127022)

    Over 3" if you're in a hospital. At least in my state.

    BTW, if you're ever in a hospital and need a long knife, find one of the employee breakrooms. They probably have one there for slicing birthday cakes and the such. Despite the 3" law.

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

    by poetmatt (793785) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @01:26PM (#33127530) Journal

    no, actually I don't think I'd be surprised. [techdirt.com]. Let me quick copy and paste the most important part, wikipedia's reply.

    "Entertainingly, in support for your argument, you included a version of 701 in which you removed the very phrases that subject the statute to ejusdem generis analysis. 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 of Section 701 that you forwarded to us.

    In your letter, you assert that an image of an FBI seal included in a Wikipedia article is "problematic" because "it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting violations" of 18 U.S.C. 701. I hope you will agree that the adjective "problematic," even if it were truly applicable here, is not semantically identical to "unlawful." Even if it could be proved that someone, somewhere, found a way to use a Wikipedia article illustration to facilitate a fraudulent representation, that would not render the illustration itself unlawful under the statute. As the leading case interpreting Section 701 points out, "The enactment of 701 was intended to protect the public against the use of a recognizable assertion of authority with intent to deceive." ... Our inclusion of an image of the FBI Seal is in no way evidence of any "intent to deceive," nor is it an "assertion of authority," recognizable or otherwise."

  • Re:Let it roll (Score:3, Informative)

    by blackraven14250 (902843) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @02:09PM (#33128308)
    The other half of "Streisand Effect" is attracting much more attention than would have otherwise been received.
  • Re:Let it roll (Score:3, Informative)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @04:46PM (#33130882)

    They knew about the seal, but they did not have access to a good replica of it. THAT is information.

  • Re:Let it roll (Score:3, Informative)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @05:05PM (#33131124)
    Everyone knew who Streisand was before the effect. They just didn't know her home address and what her house looked like. She made that public knowledge by her complaint. Everyone knows what the FBI is. People may or may not know about the seal, that it is on badges, what badges actually look like, what it takes to forge them, etc., but now may have a better idea because of this.

Genius is ten percent inspiration and fifty percent capital gains.

Working...