Latest Anti-Accountability Move By Cops Involves Playing Music While Being Recorded In Hopes Of Triggering Copyright Takedowns

from the twist-I-did-not-see-coming dept

Cops tend to dislike being recorded. They don't care much for their own recording devices. They routinely disable equipment or conveniently "forget" to activate body cameras.

And they dislike the recording devices everyone carries with them at all times: cellphones. Cellphone ubiquity means it's almost impossible for cops to prevent an incident or interaction from being recorded. Add these devices to the steadily-increasing deployment of internet-connected security cameras and there's really nowhere to hide anymore.

Simply shutting down recordings or arresting citizens for pointing cameras at them is a very risky option. There's tons of case law on the books that says recording public officials is protected First Amendment activity. So, cops are getting creative. Some of the less creative efforts include shining bright flashlights at people holding cameras in hopes of ruining any footage collected. Sometimes officers just stand directly in front of people who are recording to block their view of searches or arrests taking place. Often the excuse is "crowd control," when it's actually just an attempt at narrative control.

Now, here's the latest twist: cops have figured out a way to prevent recordings from being streamed or uploaded to social media services or video platforms like YouTube. Believe it or not, it involves a particularly pernicious abuse of intellectual property protections.

Sennett Devermont was at the [Beverly Hills police] department to file a form to obtain body camera footage from an incident in which he received a ticket he felt was unfair. Devermont also happens to be a well-known LA area activist, who regularly live-streams protests and interactions with the police to his more than 300,000 followers on Instagram.

So, he streamed this visit as well—and that’s when things got weird.

In a video posted on his Instagram account, we see a mostly cordial conversation between Devermont and BHPD Sgt. Billy Fair turn a corner when Fair becomes upset that Devermont is live-streaming the interaction, including showing work contact information for another officer. Fair asks how many people are watching, to which Devermont replies, “Enough.”

Fair then stops answering questions, pulls out his phone, and starts silently swiping around—and that’s when the ska music starts playing.

Fair boosts the volume, and continues staring at his phone. For nearly a full minute, Fair is silent, and only starts speaking after we’re a good way through Sublime’s “Santeria.”

That's the angle: copyright infringement. By loading up someone else's recording with copyrighted music, officers like this one can nuke a livestream as it's happening or, at the very least, get the user loaded up on copyright strikes once the AI has scanned the recording. (If they really wanted to be evil, the officer could also file a bogus DMCA notice targeting the recording.)

Sure, it's not guaranteed to destroy a recording, but it's a great way to ruin one even if the copyright bots don't decide it's infringement. As Dexter Thomas points out at Vice, Instagram's rules allow for incidental music that happens to be in a video, rather than the primary purpose of the video. But that allowance isn't available on all platforms, so cops like this jerk are more than happy to roll the IP dice and hope for the best. And there's no guarantee the AI running copyright patrol on Instagram won't decide a cop's personal jukebox outweighs the non-infringement surrounding it.

This isn't the only time this has happened to Devermont. Another officer pulled out the IP big guns during an interaction with him.

By the time Devermont is close enough to speak to him, the officer’s phone is already blasting “In My Life” by the Beatles — a group whose rightsholders have notoriously sued Apple numerous times.

Now that this is in the news, we can expect it to pop up elsewhere. There are a lot of officers out there not nearly as creative as these two Beverly Hills cops, but who will be willing to follow the bad example they're setting. If nothing else, it will ruin recordings by filling them with the tinny tone of cellphone-blasted tunes. At worst, it will lead to a cascade of copyright strikes that will see these cop accountability activists banished from popular platforms.

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Filed Under: beverly hills police, copyright, police, police recordings, sennett devermont, transparency


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  1. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 10 Feb 2021 @ 11:39pm

    Performance and licensing fees

    Also interesting to watch is how the artists feel about their work being used to dissuade accountability (and further authoritarianism and brutality).

    I remember objections not only to use by cruel politicians but also in sonic attacks during sieges, military shock-and-awe raids. Oh and torture.

    Typically they are not amused and have lawyers.


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