As reported in the New York Times, the widely popular collaborative information website known as Wikipedia has been threatened with prosecution if it does not remove the FBI seal from the site’s pages. The Wikimedia Foundation – the nonprofit charitable organization that runs Wikipedia – wrote back that the FBI’s was “incorrect” in interpreting its use as an effort to impersonate the agency:
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.
Over the years, Wikipedia has enacted new standards for ensuring the legal validity of the content on its site. Users must now provide detailed information on how uploaded images meet permission and licensing standards for approval. Ironically, the credits for the FBI image file on Wikipedia include a warning to users about the same law now being used against the website:
Author Federal Bureau of Investigation Permission
Public domain from a copyright standpoint, but other restrictions apply. In the US, 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.
Wikimedia’s author of the response, their general counsel Michael Godwin, took it a step further in his letter and called out the FBI for selectively removing statute language in their notice. He begins by asking, “May we talk a little bit further about ejusdem generis and your creative editing of the statute?” before ripping into the agency’s gross interpretation in a humorously cordial fashion.
Read the full letter as a .pdf courtesy of the New York Times.
- Tapatio: High-tech Protest Communications
- A Restaurant Worker’s Survival Guide
- Community Powered Wi-Fi
- Bicyclists: The Portland Guardian Angels Want You!
- SXSW: The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized