The Federal Bureau of Investigation has threatened Wikpedia with legal action, saying that its use of the FBI logo on the agency’s Wiki entry is a violation of the law that could result in a fine or imprisonment.
If you’re reading this, then you have at least a passing familiarity with Wikipedia. It’s a “multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia” that can be edited by anyone, which means that it’s not always the most rock-solid source for facts but also affords it an incredibly wide range of topics and information. It’s a quick and easy way to look up information on just about anything, including the FBI – which, in the eyes of the FBI, is a bit of a problem.
In a letter sent to Wikipedia’s office in San Francisco, the FBI claimed that “unauthorized reproduction of the FBI Seal was prohibited by U.S. law” and warned that “whoever possesses any insignia… or any colorable imitation thereof… shall be fined… or imprisoned… or both.”
The problem apparently stems from Wikipedia’s use of the FBI logo in its entry. The image is available in four resolutions, up to 2000×2060, which the Bureau claimed is “particularly problematic, because it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting violations of restrictions by Wikipedia users.”
But Wikipedia attorney “Machine Gun” Mike Godwin said the G-men are barking up the wrong tree. “The enactment of [these laws] was intended to protect the public against the use of a recognizable assertion of authority with intent to deceive,” he wrote in response to the Bureau’s letter. “The seal is in no way evidence of any ‘intent to deceive’, nor is it an ‘assertion of authority’, recognizable or otherwise.”
“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,” he added. He also claimed that Wikipedia is “prepared to argue our view in court,” although he did not comment on speculation that he and Wikipedia founder Jimmy “The Icepick” Wales were getting ready to blast their way out before the feds had them totally surrounded.