Friday, August 6, 2010

Heraldry in the News!

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has sent a “cease and desist” letter to Wikipedia, threatening Wikipedia with legal action if they do not remove the depiction of the FBI’s seal from their site because the FBI had not approved the use of the image. (Below is an image of the FBI seal from GetTV Images. The seal includes the agency's coat of arms: Gules, two pallets argent on a chief or a hanging balance sable. As insitutional heraldry in the U.S. - and elsewhere - goes, it's really a pretty decent coat of arms.)
Wikipedia has refused to do so. In a response letter to the FBI, Mike Godwin, the Wikimedia Foundation's general counsel, said: "In short, then, 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."

A more complete version of the story may be found at CNN on-line at:

As someone who has worked for lawyers for years, and who has participated in on-line discussions about the feasibility of copyright and/or trademark protection for coats of arms in the United States which included references to many of the relevant laws, I have to say that I believe the FBI is incorrect on this one.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably note that the FBI has not approved the use of an image of their seal on this site, either.  ;-^)

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