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Washington - F.B.I. Challenges Wikipedia Over Use of Its Seal

Published on: August 2, 2010 11:45 PM
By:  NY Times
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Washington - The Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken on everyone from Al Capone to John Dillinger to the Unabomber. Its latest adversary: Wikipedia.

The bureau wrote a letter in July to the Wikimedia Foundation, the parent organization of Wikipedia, demanding that it take down an image of the F.B.I. seal accompanying an article on the bureau, and threatened litigation: “Failure to comply may result in further legal action. We appreciate your timely attention to this matter.”

The problem, those at Wikipedia say, is that the law cited in the F.B.I.‘s letter is largely about keeping people from flashing fake badges or profiting from the use of the seal, and not about posting images on noncommercial Web sites. Many sites, including the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, display the seal.

Other organizations might simply back down. But Wikipedia sent back a politely feisty response, stating that the bureau’s lawyers had misquoted the law. “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” that the F.B.I. had provided.


Michael Godwin, the general counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation, wrote, “we are prepared to argue our view in court.” He signed off, “with all appropriate respects.”

An F.B.I. spokesman, William Carter, said that such letters go out “from time to time” from the office of general counsel.

“You can’t use the F.B.I. seal, by law, unless you have the permission of the F.B.I. director,” he said.

Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the dust-up both “silly” and “troubling”; Wikipedia has a First Amendment right to display the seal, she said.

“Really,” she added, “I have to believe the F.B.I. has better things to do than this.”

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Read Comments (8)  —  Post Yours »


 Aug 03, 2010 at 01:08 AM Rent is Expensive Says:

Oh just tell the FBI to chill out a lil bit, it's Wikipedia for heaven sakes
Why dont they try to help the CIA with their work in the Middle East?


 Aug 03, 2010 at 02:10 AM Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

That would be a fun one in Court. All sorts of books, magazines, newspapers and websites already use the FBI seal in the same informational manner. Wikipedia isn't trying to make people believe it is part of the FBI. It is using it for informational and educational purposes.


 Aug 03, 2010 at 04:52 AM username Says:

Oh boy, now you've done it. Wait till they see that it's here too


 Aug 03, 2010 at 07:12 AM Anonymous Says:

Connect the dots. Wikipedia = Wikileaks = FBI involved in investigation = FBI lashes out at anything "wiki"


 Aug 03, 2010 at 07:27 AM Anonymous Says:

I'm glad that Wikipedia stood up to the FBI. In 1970, there was a student at a local NYC college (who was also an FBI Agent), who wrote a critical term paper about J. Edgar Hoover. Unfortunately, Hoover found out about it, and not only fired the agent, but placed a very derogatory reference in his file. The FBI Agent sued Hoover, and was successful in having that negative reference removed. Also, Hoover tried to have the late Professor Abraham Blumberg of the John Jay College fired, as Blumberg also criticized some of the FBI's tactics. Last, in 1970, Hoover tried to fire some airline pilots, who were the victims of an airline hijacking. The pilots referred to some of the FBI Agents as "idiots", as the agents almost got the pillots killed, while attempting to rush the plane. Apparently, anyone who crossed Hoover, wound up on his enemies list.


 Aug 03, 2010 at 12:19 PM Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

#5, it turns out the FBI tried to have the late Howard Zinn fired from his university post for writing things critical about the FBI.


 Aug 03, 2010 at 01:03 PM Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

Gotta love Wikipedia's response:

"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."


 Aug 03, 2010 at 10:01 PM Tzi_Bar_David Says:

Proves how stupid they are, they have confused "Wikipedia," with "Wikileaks" an unrelated internet site.


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