The FBI recently contacted the San Francisco offices of Wikipedia -- but it wasn't a call about national secrets or terrorism or interstate crime rings or anything like that. It turns out the Feds don't want Wikipedia to use the official FBI seal
-- the one now illustrating this story (gulp).
According to the Feds, reproducing the staid seal that FBI Director Robert Mueller III
might have on the breast pocket of his warmup jacket is against the law: "Whoever possesses any insignia ... or any colorable imitation
thereof ... shall be fined ... or imprisoned ... or both," reads the FBI letter.
Easy access to the seal by users of the popular website, the FBI continued, was "particularly problematic." Wikipedia's lawyer, Mike Godwin, replied that "problematic" and "illegal" are not synonyms.
He claims the FBI omitted key portions of the relevant law in its letter -- and misinterpreted the law to boot: "The enactment of [the relevant laws] was intended to protect the public
against the use of a recognizable assertion of authority with intent to
deceive," he wrote. "The seal is in no way evidence of any 'intent
to deceive', nor is it an 'assertion of authority', recognizable or
otherwise ... 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." He assures the Feds he's ready to make this argument in court if need be. SF Weekly
's calls to the local branch of the FBI seeking an explanation have not yet been returned. And some manner of explanation is indeed necessary -- a quick Google image search for "FBI Seal"
returned thousands of entries, so it's unclear why Wikipedia has been made the Feds' focus. Also, by calling attention to its displeasure over the use of its seal by Wikipedia and Wikipedia users, the Feds all but guaranteed a huge surge of unwelcome interest and massive downloadings and photoshoppings of said seal
A visit to Wikipedia's FBI entry this morning, meanwhile, reveals the satirically altered image to the right.
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