Ironically, the attempt to stop demonstrators uploading on copyright grounds has since gone viral
On June 29, Black Lives Matter protesters gathered at Alameda County courthouse in Oakland, California, ahead of a hearing for Jason Fletcher, the former police officer charged with the murder of Steven Taylor at a Walmart on April 18 last year. Now, video of the demonstration has blown up online, thanks to a police officer blasting Taylor Swift during a conversation with the protesters.
In the video, an officer from the Alameda County sheriff’s office, identified as Sgt. David Shelby, is shown discussing the placement of a banner with demonstrators, before pulling out his phone and playing Taylor Swift’s 2014 song “Blank Space” over their conversation.
“Are we having a dance party right now?” asks James Burch, policy director at the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), who is primarily on camera talking to Shelby. Questioned further, the officer suggests that he’s playing music to stop them uploading the footage to YouTube (presumably thinking that it will be blocked by the platform’s copyright detection system).
“You can record all you want,” he says. “I just know it can’t be posted on YouTube.”
Asked if it’s a procedure for the Alameda County sheriff's office, he also says that it’s “not specifically outlined”, and goes on to explicitly reiterate: “I’m playing my music so that you can’t post on YouTube.”
In an ironic twist of fate, the video was successfully uploaded to YouTube on Thursday this week (July 1), and has since garnered more than 500,000 views on the Anti Police-Terror Project’s YouTube channel. As of writing, it’s also racked up close to 850,000 views on the organisation’s Twitter page.
Nevertheless, free speech and digital rights advocates have criticised the attempt to exploit copyright law in order to restrict sharing the legally-recorded footage of the encounter, and have called for reform to address the issue.
“This video of a police officer taking advantage of copyright laws to avoid accountability is the latest chilling example in a line of abuse that stretches back decades,” says Lia Holland, campaigns and communications director at Fight for the Future, in a statement (via Variety).
“The US must fundamentally reform our archaic and corrupt copyright system to put the interests of artists and the public first in the digital era. The last thing we should be doing is giving copyright monopolies more power to abuse, and cops more tools to evade accountability.”
According to the Washington Post, the Alameda County sheriff’s office has referred the matter to the internal affairs department for investigation. Though there’s no specific policy about censoring YouTube content, a spokesperson for the office says “there is a code of conduct on how we should carry ourselves in public”, and that the office doesn’t “condone” Shelby’s actions.
“The officer was trying to be a little smart, and it kind of backfired,” they add. “Instead of censoring it, it made it go viral.” Evidently the officer had never heard of the Streisand Effect.
... a decrease in public safety following the reallocation of $18.4m from the police budget to alternative police-free services, it’s remarkable to see two highly paid sergeants & two deputies spend time policing family members of a man shot by police outside a hearing.— Anti Police-Terror Project (@APTPaction) July 1, 2021