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Government The Courts United States Wikipedia Your Rights Online

FBI Instructs Wikipedia To Drop FBI Seal 485

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."
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FBI Instructs Wikipedia To Drop FBI Seal

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  • 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...

  • Let it roll (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:54AM (#33123642)
    Streisand in 3... 2...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:54AM (#33123654)

    since my browser cached the image.

  • 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 The MAZZTer ( 911996 ) <> 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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:59AM (#33123740)

    I guess all the criminals took the day off?

  • 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."

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:03AM (#33123790)

    As a designer, I can save and open up the svg file from wikipedia and print it at whatever resolution I want. If I was a forger, I could make fake FBI ID, passport, etc etc. Of course, even if that seal wasn't there, it wouldn't take me more than a day to re-create the seal from movies, arcade games, etc etc - just need a reference image. Wikipedia just cuts down the job for me. For example, I get corporate logo from wiki all the time to make brochures (client testaments). Sure beats recreating or contacting the respective marketing dept.

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

    by easyTree ( 1042254 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:05AM (#33123834)

    Maybe our feathered friend meant the seal shown with the written threats at the start of DVDs ?

  • 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 [], The NSA Seal [], the CIA Seal [], and the DoD's seal []? How does that begin to make sense?
  • Re:I guess... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:12AM (#33123948)

    Wouldn't this seal be owned and payed for by the tax payers of the U.S.?

  • by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:16AM (#33124034) Journal

    This gets back into the argument on whether or not the criminal is the person handing you a gun or the person using it...

    Just like anything Wikipedia is a tool. It doesn't make committing crime unavoidable. If you use it in a manner that is dubious in nature, you are breaking the law, not the person that gave you the seal image.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:21AM (#33124118)
    But since they are not breaking the law... wait, what the fuck is the issue here? I have a knife... watch out, I *could* break the law!
  • by Shompol ( 1690084 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:25AM (#33124168)
    Without Wikipedia, how will we know that FBI seal looks like? If all references to the seal are removed everywhere, an evil super villain can forge ANY seal to pass off as an FBI seal, making forgery even easier.
  • 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?

  • by SwashbucklingCowboy ( 727629 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:27AM (#33124216)

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

  • 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 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.?

  • by the_one(2) ( 1117139 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:38AM (#33124368)

    Yeah...... you better buy plenty of tinfoil hats... seriously that doesn't make much sense at all. A far simpler and logical explanation is that there are stupid lawyers at the FBI.

  • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:38AM (#33124376)

    This is just the Executive branch pushing - probing, if you will - to see how receptive the populace is becoming towards the encroachment of thoughtcrime and various other totalitarian abuses.


    The way you've worded it, it sounds like you're saying that someone (fairly high-up) in the executive branch of government has an ongoing program of pushing boundaries, and that they (directly or indirectly) put pressure on an FBI lawyer to send out a marginal insignia-takedown request. This seems a little far-fetched to me. It seems simpler and more likely that it was just one or two FBI personnel who took it upon themselves to exert their power. (The suggestion that someone mistakenly linked "Wikipedia" and "Wikileaks" is quite plausible...) I doubt they thought there would be much reaction, and I really have trouble believing this is part of a deeply orchestrated (yet, somehow, totally secret) plot to investigate how pliable the US populace is.

    Make no mistake: I recognize the abuses of government and the constant power-grabbing from citizen freedoms into governmental control. However this doesn't seem to be a massive conspiracy. It doesn't have to be. People in positions of power will tend to, as individuals, consolidate their power and push the boundaries wherever they can. Because so many people in government (especially those who aspire to positions of power and importance) are constantly pushing boundaries and trying to shift power from the people to themselves (perhaps indirectly, e.g. shifting power to companies in return for other favors), the net effect is that the government as a whole is constantly encroaching on freedoms and over-stepping their previous bounds.

    So, again, I agree that the government is constantly expanding its power and this is worrisome and should be fought against. However I question whether it is really a conspiracy: it seems more likely to be an emergent phenomenon arising from the over-aspirations of individuals. (And groups of individuals, of course--small-scale conspiracies and power-grabs certainly exist.)

    I point this out because to fight a problem one must understand its origin. Fighting an illusory conspiracy distracts from the real problem: that just about any person in a position of power will abuse that power. As such we need to be fighting for checks and balances that keep these power-grabs under control, not attacking a few figureheads of a potential conspiracy (after eliminating them, the next power-hungry people will just take their place!).

  • by theghost ( 156240 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:39AM (#33124384)

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. [] Though in this case, i would substitute "conspiracy" for "malice," because malice does appear to be all over all over this, petty and impotent though it may be.

    It's more likely that this is just some ambitious idiot in the FBI who thought Wikipedia and Wikimedia were related to Wikileaks and decided to take a shot at them. He/she probably knows that they brought down Al Capone on tax evasion and thought this might be a chance to do something similar.

  • by glassbeat ( 1035452 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:42AM (#33124428)
    I love those. Hilarious how all the stock photos are like, "Hey look at all the diversity in our workforce!" Meanwhile, the directors are, of course, all old white guys.
  • by Dorkmaster Flek ( 1013045 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:46AM (#33124516)
    Would those be the ones that legitimate customers who actually paid for their DVD and didn't rip it and violate the DMCA are forced to sit through? I always get those mixed up with the invisible ones that those dirty pirates and legitimate customers who are really dirty pirates in disguise because they rip their DVDs for "backup purposes" are forced to watch.
  • by Sovetskysoyuz ( 1832938 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:47AM (#33124528)
    ... and tepples sets a new benchmark for excellence in the category of "Best Logical Gap Between A Post And Its Parent".
  • Re:I guess... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grumpyman ( 849537 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:49AM (#33124566)
    Dude, seriously, all government stuff are paid for by taxpayers of the US. I don't think we have access to the whitehouse.
  • by SpongeBob Hitler ( 1848328 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:04PM (#33124810)

    but why is no one asking these questions?

    Glenn Beck is asking these questions!

    I'm surprised he has time to ask these questions, what with all the raping and killing of young girls that he does. At least, that's what I've heard and he has never come out and denied it.

  • by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:04PM (#33124822)

    User operation prohibition on DVDs []. If your DVD player ignores them, it may be in violation of the DVD format license.

    ... and I'd like to know where you got it, because I would also like a DVD player that does what I want.

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

    by oatworm ( 969674 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:40PM (#33125390) Homepage
    I don't know about you, but when I play MOO#, MOM or Civ#, the police stations and spy defenses don't start cannibalizing their own citizens if they have too much spare time on their hands.
  • Re:I guess... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kenj0418 ( 230916 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @01:19PM (#33126032)

    "Yes, 4 is a valid badge number, so that's almost certainly a legitimate FBI guy."

    OK, I guess we'll need to switch badge numbers to be the name the agent signed with a private key controlled by the FBI director.

    Plus side: Anyone can verify that a badge belongs to a particular named person by checking against the public key.
    Down side: Badge numbers are now 500 digits long and weigh 30 pounds.

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

    by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @01:36PM (#33126450)
    IMO, all citizens have a right to see and know all government symbols and identifications as well laws, even if for no other reason that secret laws and symbols and identifications are unenforceable and meaningless.

    You can't follow a law they won't tell you about. You can't recognize the authority of someone who's 'proof' is probably something they made with a drawing program, you won't obey any idiot in a suit that claims they're from an unknown government agency. (If you want some of those, go to any bar on a weekend and wait.)

    Now using a reproduction of their symbol and going around saying, "hey baby, I'm with the FBI" should get you slapped, and slapped in handcuffs, which is probably the law the FBI was referring to. But they have too many brain-dead egotistical douchebags there, and one of them apparently mistook Wikipedia for someone trying to impersonate an FBI agent. Hope his supervisor kicks him in the ass and demotes him to the guy that cleans out their robot mowers.
  • Re:I guess... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Confusador ( 1783468 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @01:57PM (#33126958)

    Suddenly I understand how think-of-the-children clauses end up in a road development bill.

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

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @02:13PM (#33127270)

    If I don't believe the badge number on a police officer ID, why would I trust the phone number on it?

    If they are fake they probably don't have access to the official database and will probably blindly confirm the ID of anyone calling in since they can't tell who is legit and who is fake. So test them first by asking to confirm some bogus information that you make up on the spot. If they won't confirm your own bogus info then they are probably legit.

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

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @02:21PM (#33127402) Homepage Journal

    Sadly, I suspect VShael is much more likely to get a pony than we are to get Congress to represent us.

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

    by coolsnowmen ( 695297 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @04:22PM (#33129554)

    Don't trust that phone number, look up the phone number yourself. Or (in the US) call 311.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl