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

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @10:58AM (#33123722)
    Clearly you're not geeky enough to notice that all tv shows like X-Files, CSI and the like use 'lookalike' seals... or don't show seals at all.
  • Re:I guess... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by causality ( 777677 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:13AM (#33123978)

    I think he was attacking the FBI copyright warning at the start of movies. Although I suspect that it is at the consent of the FBI. I wonder what started the FBI to go after Wikipedia though?

    I don't know, but the solution is simple enough. If Congress represented us, they'd say: "Oh, I see what you're saying. You can afford to worry about this because you don't have enough real criminals to catch. Gotcha. This is good news! It means we will cut your budget by 1/3 and after one year we'll re-evaluate how this affects your choice of priorities. Who said federal bureaus can't learn to be more efficient?"

    I think doing that one time would be enough to end this kind of BS.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:15AM (#33124022)

    It goes something like this:

    "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."

  • Re:Ummm what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Monchanger ( 637670 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:19AM (#33124104) Journal

    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 []

    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 enforcement of this law is important only against those who actually pose as federal agents or actually conspire to, which obviously isn't the case with Wikipedia.

  • 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 ) <> 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, [], 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: []

    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.

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

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:57AM (#33124710) Homepage

    Knowing how dimwitted most FBI administrators are? It has the word Wiki in it so it has to be connected to WikiLeaks.

  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:58AM (#33124728)

    I don't think the first amendment covers replicas of Seals of departments of the federal government anymore than it does creating replicas of currency.

    It probably doesn't protect the former any more than the latter.

    Then again, it probably does protect images of the currency presented in the same way Wikipedia presented images of the seal. At least, if it doesn't, wikipedia has a lot more to worry about than the seal, since they also have images of US currency.

  • Re:Ummm what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:05PM (#33124828)

    While that's undoubtedly the intent, the text doesn't say that at all.

    That purpose, and the application of the law strictly within that purpose, is probably the only thing that makes it enforceable, given the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which trumps mere statute law.

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

    by zach_the_lizard ( 1317619 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:10PM (#33124936)
    We used to. In the era of Andrew Jackson and co., you could just walk right on in. You could even attempt to kill him if you wish. Just make sure you get his cane first...

    Lots of these now offlimits offices, houses, etc. used to be freely accessible to the people who paid for them.
  • Re:I guess... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by raddan ( 519638 ) * on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @12:54PM (#33125592)
    As an interesting example of government working the other way (i.e., more access), you are now able again to walk around freely in the Massachusetts State House. When I was in college (in the 90's), I worked for a catering company that regularly did State House events, and we pretty much had free run of the place. During the downtime when we did those events (usually when some politician was making some long-winded speech), we would "sled" on the food dollies down the long, beautifully flat marble floors. We were once tsk-tsked by a State Police officer who caught us doing this, but he couldn't hide his smirk, and that was the worst that ever happened.

    Then 9/11 happened and-- the whole place was closed off. They even welded the front gates shut. All visitors, who had to have a reason for coming, were sent through a quasi-militarized checkpoint, with armed police and metal detectors.

    My brother visited me last fall, and we were in the neighborhood, and were pleasantly surprised that you can now enter the building freely again. You still have to walk through a metal detector, but gone are the "must have valid reason" restriction and the conspicuously armed guards. Which is good-- the State House has a whole variety of really interesting Colonial- and Civil War-era artifacts, and the flag room is pretty cool too.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @01:02PM (#33125718)

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

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

    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.

  • by Beezlebub33 ( 1220368 ) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @04:06PM (#33129324)
    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 []. What are they going to do? Going after wikipedia / commons for this is insane.

The wages of sin are high but you get your money's worth.