Is it Illegal to Post an Image of the FBI’s Seal?
According to CNN:
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has threatened Wikipedia with legal action if the online encyclopedia doesn’t remove the FBI’s seal from its site.
The seal is featured in an encyclopedia entry about the FBI.
Wikipedia isn’t backing down, however. The online encyclopedia — which is run by a nonprofit group and is edited by the public — sent a chiding letter to the FBI, explaining why, in its view, the FBI is off its legal rocker.
The FBI’s letter threatening Wikipedia is here. The letter states, in part:
It has come to our attention that the FBI seal is posted, without authorization, on Wikipedia at the following site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US-FBIShadedSeal.svg . As the site itself notes, “Unauthorized use of the FBI seal . . . is subject to criminal prosecution under Federal criminal law, including 18 U.S.C. 701.”
The FBI Seal is an official insignia of the Department of Justice. Its primary
purpose is to authenticate the official communications and actions of the
FBI. Unauthorized reproduction or use of the FBI Seal is prohibited by 18 United States Code, Section 701, which provides:
Whoever manufactures, sells, or possesses any . . . insignia, of the design prescribed by the [Department head] . . . or any colorable imitation thereof, or photographs, prints, or in any other manner makes or executes any engraving, photograph, print, or impression in the likeness of any such . . . insignia, or any colorable imitation thereof, except as authorized under regulation made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
Regulations governing authorizations to use the seals of Department of Justice components, including the FBI, are published in Title 41, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 128-1.5007(b), and require requests for authorizations to use the FBI Seal to be referred to the Director of the FBI. The FBI has not authorized use of the FBI seal on Wikipedia. The inclusion of a high quality graphic of the FBI seal on Wikipedia is FBI/DOJ is particularly problematic, because it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting violations of these restrictions by Wikipedia users. The purpose of this letter is to advise you of these legal requirements and to seek your compliance with the law by removing the, FBI Seal from the above site and any other sites under your control on which it appears.
The FBI’s claim is ridiculous. The statute, when quoted in full, suggests that the law’s purpose is to prevent the forgery of FBI badges and insignia, not to prevent the use of the image on a website. Here is the statute quoted in full, without the omissions:
Whoever manufactures, sells, or possesses any badge, identification card, or other insignia, of the design prescribed by the head of any department or agency of the United States for use by any officer or employee thereof, or any colorable imitation thereof, or photographs, prints, or in any other manner makes or executes any engraving, photograph, print, or impression in the likeness of any such badge, identification card, or other insignia, or any colorable imitation thereof, except as authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.