Police are trying to use YouTube’s strict copyright system to prevent people from posting tapes of law enforcement encounters.

In a video released Thursday by the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), a community organization dedicated to funding the Oakland Police Department, Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy David Shelby pulled out his phone and started playing Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” during a date. He openly admitted: “It cannot be posted on YouTube”.

“Are we having a dance party right now?” APTP policy director James Burch asked in the video, which is posted on YouTube.

“Do you play pop music to stifle the conversation?” Asked the person recording.

You can record anything you want, I just know it can’t be posted on YouTube.

After a back and forth, the deputy said, “You can record anything you want, I just know it can’t be posted on YouTube.”

Burch asked Shelby if the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office asked officers to stream copyrighted music during filmed encounters. He told Burch he was “just listening to music.”

“Do you choose to listen because you are a huge Taylor Swift fan?” The person recording replied.

Burch pressed Shelby again, asking if he was playing music to “make sure it didn’t get posted on YouTube.”

“It’s okay. It’s okay… I’m playing my music so you can’t post it on YouTube,” Shelby replied.

Burch was “in disbelief” and told Mashable that he was “still in disbelief now”. And because of YouTube’s convoluted copyright policies, actions like this can prevent vital police encounter videos from being released.

Videos of spectators of police encounters are a crucial tool for the accountability and protection of civilians. Darnella Frazier’s recording of George Floyd’s death was crucial evidence to convict Derek Chauvin of murder. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Senior Trial Attorney Chauvin described the video as “indispensable” evidence, and said he had “real doubts” that the world would have known about the video. truth about Floyd’s murder without her.

Police recording has become the norm over the past decade, and officers have discouraged bystanders from doing so with harassment and violence. While filming the police is legal “as long as you don’t interfere with their activities,” University of Maryland law professor Mark Graber told NPR. Code switch, what constitutes interference is not clear. Law enforcement agencies across the country have responded to journalists, protesters and even passers-by who record their actions by demanding that they remove the videos, confiscate their phones without a warrant and detain those who resist.

Amid growing support for police reform, it appears law enforcement officials are taking a more indirect approach to discourage the release of spectator videos.


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The above video was filmed during a pre-trial hearing for San Leandro police officer Jason Fletcher, who was charged with manslaughter last year for shooting and shooting Steven Taylor, a black man who “Acted erratically” at a Walmart in the Bay Area. Taylor’s family told the Chronicle of San Francisco that he “suffered from a mental health crisis and did not pose a threat to officers or the general public.” Rather than defuse the situation and put Taylor in touch with mental health professionals, Fletcher drew his gun.

Burch told Mashable that the rally outside Alameda County Superior Court was not even a protest. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, he said, a limited number of people were allowed to sit in the courthouse, so Taylor supporters, extended family and others Community organizers gathered with banners and coffee to listen to the broadcast audience. The confrontation in the video began when the MP asked organizers to remove their banner showing their support for Taylor, saying it was a “risk of trip.”

“So I’m like, ‘Are you really worried or are you just trying to cause trouble?’ Basically, I’m just trying to figure out what’s going to happen here, ”Burch recalls. “And then that’s when he pulled out his phone.”

Burch noted how quickly the MP began to play music to disrupt the shoot. Shelby reached into his pants pocket and, with three taps, began to detonate “Blank Space” at full volume. He then stuffed his phone against his chest, between the buttons of his shirt, the speaker pointing at the person filming.

“As soon as he saw the camera he grabs his phone and maybe presses two buttons and Taylor Swift is playing… This person was up for this.”

“I really couldn’t believe what was going on, how quickly he pulled out his phone. And it wasn’t like he had to… charge. [the song]Burch continued. “His phone was preloaded for this. As soon as he saw the camera he grabs his phone and maybe presses two buttons and Taylor Swift is playing… This person was up for this. ”

Burch added that Shelby’s readiness worried him and he stopped engaging as soon as the deputy admitted why he was playing music. Burch “didn’t believe it was safe to continue engaging with officers who were clearly trying to climb.”

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to Mashable’s request for comment on whether the agents were ordered to play copyrighted music during their recording. Burch noted that Shelby may have learned about it from police forums or private Facebook groups, which are very hostile to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The police have used this tactic before. When Los Angeles organizer Sennett Devermont, who runs the Always Film The Police Instagram account, began live-streaming a conflict while filling out a Freedom of Information Act application form with the Beverly Hills Police Department. During the live broadcast, an officer identified as Sergeant William Fair started playing Sublime’s “Santeria” from his phone. The Beverly Hills Police Department told Vice that “playing music while accepting a complaint or answering questions is not a procedure recommended by Beverly Hills Police Command staff.”

The copyrighted music post can be deleted on Instagram, even if it is playing in the background. Live broadcasts are a gray area, and according to policies updated last May, it is recommended that you use shorter clips and ensure that the live broadcast includes “a visual component to your video”. The recorded audio “should not be the primary focus of the video”.

YouTube’s copyright policies are uniquely positioned to disadvantage cops who film.

Taking a sample of the livestream and posting it online, with the music playing in the background, is subject to varying restrictions depending on the platform. YouTube’s copyright policies are uniquely positioned to disadvantage cops who film.

A YouTube spokesperson told Mashable they “had nothing to share regarding the details” of the video posted by APTP, instead relying on company policies posted online. The policy states that creators “must not upload videos they did not create or use content in their videos for which someone else owns the copyright, such as music tracks. , clips of copyrighted programs or videos made by other users without the necessary permissions. ” Copyright owners can file a DMCA complaint online, which will prompt YouTube to remove the video and issue a copyright notice. If a creator accumulates more than three warnings in 90 days, their account will be terminated.

YouTube also uses automatic systems called Content ID and the Copyright Match tool, which automatically notify copyright holders of “videos uploaded by users that may contain their creative work” based on reference files submitted by the copyright owner. Content ID users can preemptively decide whether to leave videos alone or issue a copyright notice.

While YouTube takes into account fair use – a US law that ensures that people can use copyrighted material without permission whether it is for “commentary, review, research, teaching, or news reporting “- the platform is known to automatically hit creators. Comment creators in particular have complained that the copyright removal system is unfavorable to them because nobody can file a DMCA takedown on a video, whether or not they own the copyright. Videos that fall under fair use, like creators teaching viewers how to cover songs, can still trigger YouTube’s automatic copyright notice.

Audio is also less likely to pass through copyright filters, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) noted in a white paper on how YouTube’s Content ID discourages fair dealing. EFF, a nonprofit focused on defending digital civil liberties, wrote that YouTube “has effectively replaced legal and fair use of copyrighted material with its own rules.” Content ID affects audio disproportionately because it is easier to match than an AV clip. Classical musicians, for example, are kicked out of YouTube for playing public domain compositions that may be copyrighted. recordings by other artists. EFF denounced Content ID as a “loophole for the authorities to exploit” in an article on Devermont’s livestream, suggesting that the police could use rights-holder songs that are “infamous controlling and contentious.”

The potential for a copyright strike, however, shouldn’t deter passers-by from continuing to register the police. Video evidence is not only an act of protest and self-determination, but is also desperately needed to hold law enforcement accountable.

“If they try to keep their actions in secret, we’ll make sure we let the world know what the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department is doing,” Burch said.

As of Thursday, despite Shelby’s insistence, the video is still live on YouTube.

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