Wikipedia wants the seal even without the FBI’s seal of approval

FBI Seal

FBI Seal

Wikipedia wants the seal, but could care less about the FBI’s seal of approval.

A fight has broken out over whether Wikipedia can display the FBI’s official seal on its online encyclopedia. The FBI has said “no way,” and has written Wikipedia asking it to remove the seal. Wikipedia responded with a “no” of their own, and appears ready to fight the matter in court.

The FBI’s deputy general counsel, David Larson, cities a particular law that says duplicating an official “insignia” is illegal without permission.

But Wikipedia strikes back on that point, saying the FBI redacted the most important part of that U.S. code, which defines an insignia as “any badge, identification card, or other insignia.”

“Badges and identification cards are physical manifestations that may be used by a possessor to invoke the authority of the federal government. An encyclopedia article is not,” Wikipedia’s letter says. “The use of the image on Wikipedia is not for the purpose of deception or falsely to represent anyone as an agent of the federal government.”

I’m with Wikipedia on this one. This is a no-win situation for the FBI. The FBI (or at least its legal department or its publicist) has violated rule number one: don’t protest a disagreement that no one knows about. In fact, they violated another rule: never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel (especially when that “someone” uses digital ink and is comprised of an army of people looking for a reason to stand up for free speech).

Wikipedia’s legal arguments will win out, and the FBI will have to go all, well… go all “FBI” on Wikipedia if they want to pressure Wikipedia on this matter, which will only make them look worse.

I predict that the FBI will either back down, or will look for some agreement so they can save face. The FBI logo will stay on Wikipedia’s FBI page.

Until then, here’s my gesture of solidarity.

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One Response

  1. After having looked at the page, plus the wiki homepage, I’m forced to think the good doctor is right. The FBI is making lemons out of lemonade!

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