Music Business

Sheriff admits he’s playing Taylor Swift songs to stop witnesses from uploading videos to YouTube

An officer in the Alameda County, CA Sheriff’s Department has openly admitted to playing Taylor Swift to prevent citizen’s recordings from being uploaded to YouTube.

Guest post by Tim Cushing from Techdirt

Law enforcement officers are no longer pretending they’re such big fans of recorded music they can’t help but start playing their favorite tracks while interacting with citizens who are recording them.

Earlier this year, police accountability activists noticed a new trend: officers were playing tracks by IP big hitters like Taylor Swift and the Beatles when being filmed, apparently in hopes of triggering copyright strikes that would prevent the videos from being uploaded, if not shut down these activists’ accounts completely.

The officers never admitted this was the reason for the spontaneous tune playing. At least not until now. Sergeant D. Shelby of the Alameda County (CA) Sheriff’s Department started playing a track by Taylor Swift while being recorded by members of the Anti Police-Terror Project. And he admitted this was exactly why he was playing this track.

Here’s a description of what can be observed in the embedded video below, courtesy of Zoe Schiffer and Adi Robertson of The Verge.

A confrontation Tuesday between a police sergeant and member of the public didn’t start out unusually. James Burch, policy director of the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), was standing outside the Alameda Courthouse in Oakland, California when an officer approached him and asked him to move a banner. As the two argued, the sergeant noticed he was being filmed. Then, he pulled out his phone and started playing “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift — in an apparent play to exploit copyright takedowns and keep the video off social media.

Here’s the recording:

As you can see, this doesn’t always work. The video — with Taylor Swift’s song audible in the background — is still live on YouTube. That this one snuck past the copyright protection algorithms isn’t necessarily a sign the system being reverse-engineered by cops scared of accountability doesn’t work. It probably does. But YouTube has gotten a little better at handling DMCA takedown requests and has made some efforts to respect fair use of copyrighted material.

But if sixty-percent of the time it works every time, it will be enough for garbage law enforcement officers like Sergeant Shelby. This is an officer who confidently told activists the sole reason he was playing music was to keep the public from witnessing his encounter with police accountability activists.

Unfortunately for Sergeant Shelby, none of this worked. Not only did the video make its way to YouTube intact, he’s now under investigation for being a fuckhead (paraphrasing here).

An Alameda County sheriff’s sergeant who played Taylor Swift on the courthouse steps in Oakland will be investigated by higher-ups because it appears as though he was trying to avoid having his interactions recorded and uploaded to social media platforms.

Sgt. Ray Kelly, a department spokesman, said the actions of the sergeant, identified on the video as Sgt. Shelby, “is not something we condone or approve. We have a code of conduct all officers must follow,” adding that the matter will be sent to Internal Affairs.

According to Ray Kelly, the sergeant was also instructed to stop doing this while being filmed. We’ll see if that works. It seems the best way to keep Sgt. Shelby from doing this again would be to can him and let him see if his zero personal accountability attitude will fly in the private sector. At the very least, the department should give him an unpaid vacation and a demotion. He knew what he was doing and he was so sure it would work that he said it out loud while on camera.

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