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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

FBI to Wikipedia: Quit Using Our Seal

Posted By on Tue, Aug 3, 2010 at 8:59 AM

click to enlarge Breakin' the law, breakin' the law...
  • Breakin' the law, breakin' the law...
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.

click to enlarge FBI seal, FBI seal, FBI seal, FBI seal...
  • FBI seal, FBI seal, FBI seal, FBI seal...

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.

click to enlarge 'Fixed it for you,' reads the Wikipedia file - WIKIPEDIA
  • Wikipedia
  • 'Fixed it for you,' reads the Wikipedia file
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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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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