Does the FBI Have Any Real Work to Do?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) apparently doesn’t have anything to do these days, since they are amusing themselves with threatening spurious legal actions against Wikipedia for illustrating the FBI’s entry with the FBI’s logo. According to the FBI’s letter (PDF link), using the FBI seal as Wikipedia does is a violation of federal law.

There are many, many, many problems with the FBI’s contention here. First and foremost, the law clearly only deals with people displaying the logo “in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such [work] is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Wikipedia is doing no such thing in their entry, which clearly shows the seal in a merely informative context.

The FBI argues that Wikipedia facilitates the illegal use of the logo (although it’s unclear how the FBI’s own web site doesn’t do the same thing). Of course, anybody can take the high-quality version of the image from Wikipedia and do whatever they want with it . . . and they, not Wikipedia, are responsible for what they do. Wikipedia clearly explains the legal limitations on the seal’s information page: “Public domain from a copyright standpoint, but other restrictions apply. In the US, unauthorized use of the FBI seal, name, and initials are subject to prosecution under Federal Criminal law, including 18 U.S.C § 701, § 709, and § 712.”

I would think that the FBI has better things to do than harass online media outlets for something that isn’t even illegal, but just in case they don’t here’s some more work for ’em. I’m displaying the FBI logo on my site, just like CNN, CBS, CNET, BBC, the New York Times, the Examiner, AOL News, Google, Microsoft, and more. Oh, the horrors. Come arrest me, I dare you.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.