Is the use of the FBI logo in a small part of an app okay?
November 1, 2016 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm making my first android app, a dinner party murder mystery complete with minigames, and I want to add a "fingerprint database" check, as shown here. The screen currently features a small picture of the FBI logo, and the text will make reference to the FBI. Is this within the bounds of fair use?

According to wikipedia the FBI pursues unauthorized commercial usage (fwiw I do intend to sell the app), but it seems to me that within the context of the app nobody could reasonably assume that the FBI was actually affiliated with the app. The screen in question will appear for only a short time after about 45 min of play.
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns to Media & Arts (13 answers total)
 
Don't do it. Not worth the trouble. Make something up.
posted by Etrigan at 9:49 AM on November 1, 2016 [8 favorites]


You might not use the FBI logo but make up a phrase that abbreviates to FBI, such as Fingerprint Biometric Information or something, keeping the gag but making it clearer that it is in fact a gag. Make up a logo for it that does not resemble the actual FBI logo.
posted by kindall at 9:52 AM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


It very likely is, but I can tell you that even if it is, it's not worth it. Don't use it.
posted by holborne at 9:54 AM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


You might be able to use the FBI Anti-Piracy logo.
"41 CFR Section 128-1.5009 authorizes use of the APW Seal by all U.S. copyright holders, subject to specific conditions of use. "
posted by FallowKing at 9:56 AM on November 1, 2016


As a fellow game developer, I'd advise you not to invite the trouble. If a vaguely government-y looking seal will do the trick of semiotically communicating, do that. I once made a game about relocating survivors of a plague and you worked for DEMA or something silly like that.

I doubt you'd get in serious legal trouble outside of a sternly worded letter, but why create a headache?
posted by GilloD at 10:00 AM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


How about a logo for the Federal Investigation Bureau?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:07 AM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


For what it is worth, in 2010 the FBI sent a demand to Wikipedia insisting that they stop using the FBI seal in an article about the FBI (FBI demand letter, Wikipedia response). Wikipedia won this fight, but they have a legal team and can point to a rock-solid non-commercial educational purpose. Don't do this.
posted by RichardP at 10:07 AM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


Here's the DOJ's policies

Relevant passage:
USE OF DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE AND COMPONENT SEALS, LOGOS, OTHER OFFICIAL INSIGNIA, NAMES AND INITIALS

Department of Justice seals, logos and other official insignia may not be used or reproduced without written permission. Requests for permission to use or reproduce the official insignia of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Prisons, Federal Prison Industries, Parole Commission, Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shall be referred to the heads of these components. Requests for permission to use or reproduce any other Department or component official insignia shall be referred to the Assistant Attorney General for Administration. Permission to use or reproduce official insignia of the Department is granted on a case-by-case basis and involves the consideration of many relevant factors, including: the cost or benefit to the Department or the government of granting the request; the unintended appearance of endorsement or authentication by the Department; the potential for misuse; the effect on Department security; the reputability of the use; and the extent of control by the Department over the ultimate use and distribution of any product(s) or publication(s) bearing official insignia of the Department.

The use of the names or initials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the United States Marshals Service is governed by 18 U.S.C. sec. 709, which prohibits their unauthorized use in a manner calculated to convey the impression that such use is approved, endorsed, or authorized by that component, unless written permission has been received from the head of the respective component.
posted by adamrice at 10:15 AM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


but it seems to me that within the context of the app nobody could reasonably assume that the FBI was actually affiliated with the app

I think you are very, very wrong here. Crop out the bottom caption on your screen and why wouldn't someone think that's a video of a real thing?
posted by acidic at 11:10 AM on November 1, 2016


Even if your assessment is right it only has value if you can sustain that in a court challenge from the FBI.

So, don't do it.
posted by justcorbly at 11:17 AM on November 1, 2016


Thanks all for the advice! I decided to go with the Federal Anti-Racketeering Bureau instead.
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns at 12:13 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just for further clarification of why this isn't allowed, the FBI's logo falls under trademark law, while fair use is something that applies only to copyright.
posted by MsMolly at 2:59 PM on November 1, 2016


Sounds like you have a solution. I agree on government logos/seals not being worth messing with.

The VA, for example, treats the seal sort of like a signature, so is very protective (PDF:) I think most agencies are similar.
posted by lorimt at 6:39 PM on November 1, 2016


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