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FBI vs. Wikipedia: "FBI Has Not Authorized Use of the FBI Seal on Wikipedia"

FBI vs. Wikipedia: "FBI Has Not Authorized Use of the FBI Seal on Wikipedia"
FBI Seal on Wikipedia (Wikipedia)

NEW YORK (CBS/CNET) The Federal Bureau of Investigation has sent a nasty letter to Wikipedia demanding that the FBI's official seal be removed from an article about the law enforcement agency due to authorization and counterfeiting issues.

"The FBI has not authorized use of the FBI seal on Wikipedia," said the letter to Wikipedia obtained by The New York Times. "The inclusion of a high quality graphic of the FBI seal on Wikipedia is particularly problematic, because it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting" copying and reprinting of the FBI's seal.

The letter, dated on July 22, goes on to threaten legal action if Wikipedia fails to comply with the request to remove the seal.

So what does Wikipedia think about all of this?

CNET reports that the free, web-based, collaborative encyclopedia project thinks the FBI may have misread the law it cited in its angry letter.

"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," Mike Godwin, general counsel for Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit company that runs Wikipedia, wrote the FBI in response.

Godwin argues that Section 701 prohibits the unauthorized reproduction of the insignia on badges and identification cards - not encyclopedia articles.

"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," Godwin wrote in the letter obtained by The New York Times. "We are in contact with outside counsel in this matter, and we are prepared to argue our view in court."

FBI spokesperson William Carter defended the July 22 letter, saying there is no exception to the rule.

"You can't use the FBI seal, by law, unless you have the permission of the FBI director," Carter told the newspaper.

Despite the FBI's request, Wikipedia continues to display the official seal in high quality on its page about the FBI.

Story Contributed by Steven Musil, News Editor at CNET News