Copyright Law

Police are still playing copyrighted music so they can’t be recorded

Some police continue to play copyrighted music to prevent civilian footage to be posted to social media. Is it working?

By Tim Cushing from Tech Dirt.

Cops may have only the vaguest grasp on the laws they use to initiate stops, but they sure as hell understand copyright law. With algorithms doing the heavy lifting to prevent copyright infringement, cops have deployed a new tactic in hopes of preventing accountability activists from livestreaming or uploading their interactions with officers. 

When the citizen-deployed cameras start recording, cops play recordings of their own, hoping to trigger auto-blocking of uploads and livestreams by processes designed to recognize and prevent uploads of infringing content. At the very least, officers are apparently hoping to rack up copyright strikes on activists’ accounts, pushing them closer to permabans or deletion.

This tactic hasn’t really been all that effective. If the goal is to make law enforcement officers look like thugs who believe they’re above accountability, then consider it a success. But if the goal is to prevent these recordings from going live, it has failed to accomplish that.

Unfortunately, this string of highly-publicized failures isn’t preventing cops from utilizing this bullshit anti-accountability tactic. A documented failure of success must just mean officers are due for a win. And, in this case reported by Julian Mark for the Washington Post, officers are no longer limiting their abuse of copyright law to one-to-one interactions.

It was around 11 p.m. on April 4 on a residential street in Santa Ana, Calif. — and the Disney songs blared from a police cruiser, according to a YouTube video and news reports. Police had been investigating a stolen vehicle, an officer explains in the video. But after “Un Poco Loco” from Disney’s 2017 movie “Coco” started blasting through the neighborhood, residents began asking questions.

“What’s the music for?” a woman can be heard asking in the video, explaining that she needed to sleep.

Seconds after the music appears to abruptly turn off, a Santa Ana city councilman, Johnathan Hernandez, also asked: “What’s going on with the music here?”

The officer replied it had to do with “copyright infringement” as he pointed toward the man filming the video. Hernandez took that to mean the officer was trying to keep the video off social media.

Fortunately, the intervention of this councilman ended the officer’s public performance of Disney music — something the Santa Ana PD almost certainly does not have a license for. The music was shut off. The councilman pointed out he was “embarrassed” the officer was treating his neighbors this way. The officer then apologized.

Here’s the tail end of that interaction, as captured by the man whose recording the officer was trying to shut down:

And now that officer is under investigation. Santa Ana PD Chief David Valentin says the incident is being looked into and the actions caught on YouTube tape appear to violate his expectations that officers “perform their duties with dignity and respect in the community.”

Nobody’s going to get fired for this. But it’s another failed censorship-via-copyright attempt. And you’d think that would force more officers to reconsider deploying this tactic when being filmed. But if officers aren’t expected to know the laws they’re enforcing, it’s unlikely they’re capable of learning a lesson from yet another blatant attempt to shut down citizen recordings. If cops aren’t worried about the public’s retaliation, maybe it’s time for Disney’s dozens of high-priced lawyers to start asking questions about this apparent misuse of intellectual property.

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