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The Seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is the symbol of the FBI. It is used to represent the organization and to authenticate certain documents issued by the FBI. The phrase is used both for the physical seal itself, and more generally for the design impressed upon it.

Unauthorized commercial usage or inappropriate usage of the seal is a criminal offense under U.S. federal law.

The current version of the seal has been in use since 1941, and derives its design from the FBI's flag.

Design Edit

Each color and symbol in the seal of the FBI portrays values of the FBI and the United States. The blue field and the golden scale represent justice.[1] The infinite circle of thirteen stars represents unity and the original thirteen founding states of the United States. The laurel leaf represents academic honors, distinction and fame. The two branches depict 46 leaves representing the number of states in the U.S. when the FBI was founded in 1908.[1] The colors of the vertical, parallel red and white stripes symbolize the values of the FBI and, reflecting the design of the Flag of the United States, the red bars outnumber the white by one. The red stripes symbolize courage, valor, and strength, while the white symbolizes light, cleanliness, and truth.[1] The motto "Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity" – devised in 1935 by FBI Inspector W.H. Drane Lester – [2] describes the high moral standards and high level of motivation it expects from its men and women and cleverly backronyms the initials of the Bureau itself. The beveled edges around the seal convey the severe challenges that the FBI faces every day, and the ruggedness of the organization. The gold color represents the richness and history of the Bureau's mission.[1]


When the FBI was founded in 1908 as the Bureau of Investigation (later the Division of Investigation) it was a subordinate organization of the United States Department of Justice.[3] It had no logo of its own but used the existing seal of the Department of Justice. In 1935 it became an independent service within the Department of Justice and changed its name to the present-day Federal Bureau of Investigation. To reflect its new identity it adopted a version of the Department of Justice seal with the words "Federal Bureau of Investigation" and "Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity" added to the outer band.[2]

Various proposals were floated over the next few years for a new FBI seal that would retain the connection with the Department of Justice while expressing the FBI's own values and distinct identity. The current version of the seal dates from 1940 and was designed by Special Agent Leo Gauthier, who was a draftsman, artist and illustrator. He had previously designed a flag for the Bureau and used elements of that design to create a new seal. It was accepted immediately.[2] It was first used in January 1941 and has been in use ever since.[4]

Usage of the FBI sealEdit

Since 1954, Federal law has protected the FBI seal against unauthorized commercial use.[5] The unauthorized use of the seal is subject to prosecution under federal criminal law, including Sections 701 and 709 of Title 18 of the United States Code.[1] The latter Section prohibits the use of the words “Federal Bureau of Investigation” or the acronym "F.B.I.",

"in connection with any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation."[6]

The seal has, however, been used with permission in many commercial works of popular culture. An authorized history of the Bureau, The F.B.I. Story, was published in 1956 with the seal displayed on the book's dust jacket with the permission of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.[7] Hoover also permitted the long-running ABC series The F.B.I., on which he was a consultant, to open and close every episode with the seal.[5] The FBI has taken action against commercial vendors making unauthorized use of the seal and other Federal agency seals and symbols, such as Smokey the Bear. For instance, a New York toy manufacturer used the FBI seal on a toy water pistol. The manufacturer was warned by the Bureau to remove the seal or face prosecution.[8]

File:Fbi anti piracy warning.jpg

The FBI seal has become a familiar sight for users of digital entertainment media in the United States due to its appearance on DVDs, CDs and video games. It appeared in arcade games during a late 1980s anti-drugs campaign, alongside the words "Winners Don't Use Drugs".[9] In February 2004, the FBI announced a joint anti-piracy program with the Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America, Entertainment Software Association and the Software and Information Industry Association under which an "FBI Anti-Piracy Warning" would be displayed prominently on disks, sleeves and in DVD title cards. The warning notice displays the FBI seal defaced with a strip bearing the words "FBI ANTI-PIRACY WARNING", accompanied by a text warning of the illegality of unauthorized copying.[10][11] The anti-piracy campaign was initiated following the passage by Congress of the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act of 2003, which ordered the FBI to develop a program against copyright infringement. The seal is used under a Memorandum of Understanding agreed between the FBI and the Recording Industry Association of America.[12]

In July 2010, the FBI ordered the Wikimedia Foundation to remove the seal from Wikipedia servers, stating that its unauthorized presence on the encyclopedia was illegal under 18 U.S.C. §701. Wikimedia's general counsel, Mike Godwin, declined to comply, stating that the FBI was misconstruing the law, which he said was intended to prevent people from using fake FBI badges or profiting from the use of the seal.[13][14][15]

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit

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