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The FBI's Frivolous Fight Against Wikipedia
By: Jeff Louis
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FBI SealThe Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) isn't only fighting crime but Wikipedia. In a July 22 letter, the FBI claims that Wikipedia is using the government agency's seal without authorization.

Specifically, the FBI's general counsel, the author of the letter, wrote: "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 also is threatening legal action against the online encyclopedia if their seal isn't removed from the site.

Wikipedia's legal counsel, however, responded with a letter stating: "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."

The letter also states that Wikipedia is willing to take the matter to court.

To back their point, Wikipedia cites examples of online sites using the seal, including Encyclopedia Britannica. Wikipedia states the image is not being used for of deceptive representation nor does it fall under the FBI's violation claim specified under 18 U.S.C., Section 701.

In addition, they accuse and reprimand the FBI for removing a portion of 18 U.S.C. Section 701 that pertains explicitly to how the seal is used:


"Entertainingly, in support for your argument, you included a version of 701 in which you removed the very phrases that subject the statute to ejusdem generis analysis. 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."

Basically, the FBI deleted the words "badge, identification card, or other insignia" from the statute.

From a branding or image standpoint, the FBI already has lost the battle. By pursuing legal action, the FBI loses in the court of public opinion, and dropping the matter without action makes them seem rash, wrong, and/or petty.

Some have suggested that the FBI confused Wikipedia with confidential document-leaking Wikileaks. If the FBI admits this is the case, their investigative reputation is tarnished.

Seemingly in jest, Vanity Fair, posted the image on their Web site and noted "the Encyclopedia Britannica and other informational online destinations also display the seal. In fact, so too, as of the writing of this post, does VF.com!" 


The FBI already is drawing criticism from reporters and bloggers who have speculated the FBI has too much time on their hands. Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said the nature of the FBI's request is both "silly" and "troubling."


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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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