FBI Orders Wikipedia to Cease and Desist using FBI Seal

By now you may have read about the FBI ordering Wikipedia to “Cease and Desist” using the FBI Seal, as reported by BBC News (click here for the complete story) and the NY Times. The FBI essentially wrote a letter to the Wikimedia Foundation threatening litigation if it did not take down their seal, citing “Failure to comply may result in further legal action. We appreciate your timely attention to this matter.”

What really grabs our attention is the letter fired back by Wiki’s general counsel, Mike Godwin! Talk about a stinger. We’ve even created a limited edition T-Shirt for the occasion!!

 Here’s a blurb so you get the jest: “thank you for taking my call Thursday, and congratulations on your imminent retirement after so many years of service. It’s unfortunate that on such an otherwise happy occasion I must inform you that the Bureau’s reading of 18 U.S.C. 701 is both idiosyncratic (made especially so by your strategic redaction of important language) and, more importantly, incorrect.

I’m writing you, of course, regarding your recent letter reiterating the Bureau’s invocation of 18 U.S.C. 701 and your demand for removal of the image of the FBI Seal on Wikipedia (images of which are widely available elsewhere, including on the Encyclopedia Britannica website, last I checked). You may recall that in my initial email response to your estimable Assistant General Counsel, Mr. Binney, I pointed to cases construing Section 701 and that, in a subsequent email, I broadly hinted that ejusdem generis, a standard accepted canon of statutory construction, demonstrates that this statute is inapposite to the use of an image of the seal on an encyclopedia.

It’s clear that you and Mr. Binney took the hint, although perhaps not in the way I would have preferred. Entertainingly, in support for your argument, you included a version of 701 in which you removed the very phrases that subject the statute to ejusdem generis analysis. 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…

As of today, the FBI seal is still on Wikipedi and unless they go to court to duke it out (which they won’t, since the FBI should have better things to do than picking on a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to spread knowledge), it will remain there.