The Federal Bureau of Investigations and Wikipedia are going head to head. The great open-source compendium of human knowledge's crime? Displaying the FBI seal .
The bureau sent a letter to the Wikimedia Foundation in July, asking that the seal be taken down from all Wikipedia pages within 14 days and threatening legal action. The letter seems to indicate that the FBI is worried about an army of teenagers, stay-at-home moms and seniors running around with fake FBI badges derived from the Wikipedia image.
Regulations governing authorizations to use the seals of Department of Justice components, including the FBI, are published in Title 41, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 128-1.5007(b), and require requests for authorizations to use the FBI Seal to be referred to the Director of the FBI. The FBI has not authorized use of the FBI seal on Wikipedia. The inclusion of a high quality graphic of the FBI seal on Wikipedia is particularly problematic, because it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting violations of these restrictions by Wikipedia users.
The FBI was even nice enough to include the specific text of US code it felt Wikipedia was violating:Unauthorized reproduction or use of the FBI Seal is prohibited by 18 United States Code, Section 701, which provides:
Whoever manufactures, sells, or possesses any... insignia, of the design prescribed by the [Department head]... or any colordble 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... insignia, or any colorable imitation thereof, except as authorized under regulation made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
Wikimedia Foundation lawyer Mike Godwin shot back in his own playful but polite letter , dated Friday, pointing out that the FBI had left out some critical parts of that section of code:
Certain words that you redacted, which are central to the interpretation, are bolded and underlined for your convenience:
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.
Godwin continues his rebuttal:Badges and identification cards are physical manifestations that may be used by a possessor to invoke the authority of the federal government. An encyclopedia article is not. The use of the image on Wikipedia is not for the purpose of deception or falsely to represent anyone as an agent of the federal government. Using both ejusdem generis and common sense, we can see that 701 does not apply to the use of an image on an online encyclopedia. ... In short, then, 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. We are in contact with outside counsel in this matter, and we are prepared to argue our view in court.
In conclusion, we invite you to cite this article in the creation of a Wikipedia page detailing the "Great FBI vs. Wikipedia Battle of 2010."