This week, the Justice Department posted a regulation that will allow all copyright holders — no matter how small — to download and use the logo. According to the FBI, the initiative was spurred by groups like independent film makers and sports leagues that have been clamoring to use the image:
The new rule is remarkable in that it places few limits on who can use the logo — which is familiar to most consumers who are forced to stare at it while waiting to watch a home movie. Under modern copyright law, a work doesn’t have to be registered to receive protection — the copyright springs to life as soon the work is created. That means everything from a blockbuster movie to a doodle on a napkin is copyrighted (and now eligible for the logo).
The Justice Department and the agency acknowledge that “widespread use of the APW Seal may “dilute” the value of the image and the FBI’s message” but claim that any potential logo-fatigue will be offset by “increasing the anti-piracy message across the board.”
The new rules coincides with increasingly aggressive tactics, such as wholesale domain name seizures, by the federal government to target intellectual property theft. This approach may appeal to copyright owners who are frustrated with the failure of anti-piracy laws like SOPA, but it may also prove short-sighted in the long term.
Criminal law is a heavy stick that should not be used casually. Most copyright vi0laters are not serious criminals like those the FBI typically confronts, but are instead ordinary people hoping to watch their favorite TV show. This plan to let anyone invoke the symbol of a heavily-armed law enforcement agency could ultimately undermine the overall legitimacy of copyright law.
The plan is also notable in that the FBI has aggressively challenged Wikipedia and others over the use of its logo. Federal criminal law forbids misuse of the logo but Wikipedia has maintained the law doesn’t apply to legitimate purposes like news reporting (as we have used it above).
A final regulation will be posted in the Federal Registry on Friday, according to Politico. The plan will be implemented by Executive Order which states that copyright owners (from bloggers to doodlers) can use it provided they download it from the FBI’s website and make sure it appears in a plain box border.
Here is a copy of the draft regulation:
FBI and Copyright
(Image by John Roman Images via Shutterstock)