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I found this GitHub repository that contains collection of several different intelligence agency domain seizure pages, including FBI domain seizure.

It is meant to be used by said agencies for real seized domains, but I figured out one of my April Fools jokes on my own websites would be to include the FBI domain seizure page for just one day and display it to anyone who visits the page on April 1st for the first time.

The domain is on a national TLD outside U.S. so it's fairly obvious that FBI couldn't seize that domain (and it's a 3rd level domain, too).

However I would still make sure that I won't face any kind of jail for that if I misuse the domain seizure template for a silly April Fools joke. I would add a button to it that will be labeled as something like "Details on this seizure" or something, and clicking it will display an alert box saying "APRIL FOOLS" and redirecting back to the real website homepage.

I also figured out that just for the sake of being sure, the page would visibly include a disclaimer stating that that page isn't real and was only installed for the purpose of a one time April Fools joke and does not intend to misinterprets it as a real domain seizure, and that the artwork is licensed under Public Domain as an official U.S. government agency artwork.

Am I still in trouble if I go with that route? Is it too overboard?

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  • A reliable answer would require more details on your connections with the United States. Are you a U.S. citizen? Does the website belong to a company that is incorporated in the United States?
    – bdb484
    Apr 12 at 13:04
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    @bdb484 I'm not a U.S. citizen, I do not live in U.S., but my websites, despite being hosted on a local Czech server, are targetted to international audience. I have link to my websites on numerous online profiles, on my YouTube channel, on my Twitch channel, etc. Including here on Stack Exchange.
    – Polda18
    Apr 12 at 13:14
  • And no, my websites are purely just my personal blog and portfolio, they're not affiliated with anything inside U.S. by any mean. It does talk about games I play, one of them is from a U.S. company, but it's just a fan site.
    – Polda18
    Apr 12 at 13:24
  • The FBI warning page is a product of the US Government. Those (which aren't militarily classified) are generally in the public domain. Apr 13 at 8:41
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    Given that the page in question also shows the German BKA sign featuring the "Bundesadler" which is protected under German law and the BKA did sue for related usage before, it would be interesting to see an answer about the legal situation in Germany. (Even though that would trigger at most a fine and not jail time AFAICT.) Sadly I don't know enough about this to give such an answer though. Apr 14 at 3:23

1 Answer 1

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I can't comment on what the legal situation would be in your home country, but as a matter of U.S. law, the hypothetical scenario you've described is not illegal.

First, because you aren't a U.S. citizen and because you aren't operating in the United States, the U.S. government probably has no jurisdiction over you, your website, or your conduct.

Even if it did, the most relevant statute, 18 U.S. Code § 1017, would not apply. The statute prohibits the "fraudulent or wrongful" use of the FBI's seal. But "fraudulent" and "wrongful" generally refer only to conduct where one uses deception or other means to obtain money, property, etc. to which they have no lawful entitlement. United States v. Enmons, 410 U.S. 396, 399 (1973).

Because you aren't using the seal to obtain anyone's property through deception, this use would not fall within the statute's proscriptions.

Even if the government sought to prosecute you, you would have a valid First Amendment defense. The First Amendment protects the right to free speech, and it does not allow statements to be criminalized merely because they are false. United States v. Alvarez, 132 S. Ct. 2537 (2012).

This outcome should be unsurprising to most U.S. observers. I think most people would agree that the U.S. obviously cannot prosecute a Hollywood producer for making a movie dramatizing the FBI's efforts to shut down the Pirate Bay, even if it displayed the FBI's seizure message on a monitor in the course of the movie, and even if it showed the seal being used on a completely fictional website.

The hypothetical you're describing is not materially different. In both cases, the seal is being used to falsely create the impression -- for entertainment purposes -- that the FBI has shut down a website. Saying false things for entertainment purposes is not a crime in the United States.

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  • Thank you. Just as a matter to ensure this April Fools joke will be understood, I'll include the disclaimer as stated above. This is the answer I was looking for.
    – Polda18
    Apr 12 at 15:24
  • Including something like that would definitely help undercut any suggestion that this was criminal.
    – bdb484
    Apr 13 at 0:07
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    One thing to note: I suspect the use could easily become fraudulent if it were used to solicit donations with a suggestion/implication that they would be used for some sort of defense fund (against a takedown that never happened) or in a manner to manipulate value of stocks, cryptocurrency tokens, etc. Apr 13 at 0:56
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    When they click on the link to pay the fee, that's when you display "April Fool!"
    – Barmar
    Apr 13 at 14:30
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    If impersonating a police officer, even as a joke, was illegal, Peter Falk, Tom Selleck, and Clint Eastwood be sitting in prison. Luckily the First Amendment protects jokes and most other false statements.
    – bdb484
    Apr 14 at 9:01

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