August 3, 2010; Source: BBC News | You’d think with all the crime the FBI has to fight, it has better things to do than get in a scrape with the Wikipedia Foundation, parent of the free online encyclopedia, for using the bureau’s official seal in one of its web entries. According to BBC News, Wikipedia received a letter from the FBI saying that the “unauthorized reproduction” of its seal “was prohibited by U.S. law.”
The letter went on to say: “Whoever possesses any insignia . . . or any colorable imitation thereof . . . shall be fined . . . or imprisoned . . . or both.” The FBI’s argument is that featuring the seal on the website violates a law that is meant to prevent its use on fake badges or in other criminal ways. Wikepedia claims that it is in the clear and the FBI is on the wrong side of the law.
Mike Goodwin, Wikipedia’s lawyer responded to the FBI’s claims by saying the law was intended “to protect the public against the use of a recognizable assertion of authority with intent to deceive. The seal is in no way evidence of any ‘intent to deceive’, nor is it an ‘assertion of authority’, recognizable or otherwise.” Goodwin adds that Wikipedia is not going to let the FBI hold up its plans to keep using the seal. “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.”—Bruce Trachtenberg