Taxpayers everywhere should be proud. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken time from its busy schedule of arresting criminals, fighting terrorism and breaking Russian spy rings to pick a bizarre, and seemingly petty fight with the user-driven encyclopedia, Wikipedia. In a letter obtained by the NY Times, the FBI has demanded the removal of a high-resolution image of the FBI’s shield from the FBI page, and is threatening legal action.
“The FBI has not authorized use of the FBI seal on Wikipedia,” the letter stated. “The inclusion of a high quality graphic of the FBI seal on Wikipedia is particularly problematic, because it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting” copying and reprinting of the FBI’s seal.
The letter also threatens Wikipedia if the website does not acquiesce.
“Failure to comply may result in further legal action. We appreciate your timely attention to this matter.”
Wikipedia replied with a letter that could almost be described as “amused”, and declared the claims to be baseless.
“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”. Michael Goodwin, general counsel of the Wikipedia Foundation wrote.
The code in question, section 701, specifically prohibits the manufacturing or possession of ID cards or insignias of government agencies that are used by officers or employees of that agency.
“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,” Goodwin said in the letter. “We are in contact with outside counsel in this matter, and we are prepared to argue our view in court.”
Putting aside the obvious issues of the First Amendment, it seems a somewhat ridiculous argument. If the FBI targets Wikipedia for hosting that image and plans to go after any other sites that host similar images, the Bureau has its work cut out for it. A quick Google image search of “FBI seal” netted several thousand similar results, including the easily obtained image posted above. Perhaps the FBI misread the website name and confused Wikipedia with the document leaking WikiLeaks.
If this does how manage to go to court, prepare yourselves for one of the more pointless trials in recent years.