Police are Still Weaponizing Copyright to Prevent Transparency

© AP Photo / Patrick SemanskyThis March 20, 2018 file photo shows the YouTube app on an iPad in Baltimore.
This March 20, 2018 file photo shows the YouTube app on an iPad in Baltimore.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.04.2022
YouTube and other social media websites have strict rules on playing copyrighted content. Police have been using that to prevent embarrassing videos from being posted on the platforms.
Residents in Santa Ana, California were woken up by blasting music around 11pm on April 4, a Monday. But the music was not a bass bumping rap song or a heavy metal piece with screaming vocals, it was “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” from the animated Disney film “Encanto.” And it was not being played by a teenage house party or an inconsiderate driver with a loud sound system, but a police vehicle.
Police responded to a stolen vehicle call in the neighborhood when an observer who runs the YouTube channel Santa Ana Audits started recording the activity. That’s when officers started blasting the Disney owned track, in an apparent attempt to prevent the video from being posted on YouTube and Instagram. Thanks to those platform’s algorithmic copyright enforcement, any video that includes a copyrighted song is susceptible to being removed. Its channel owners are also subject to warnings and even getting banned from the platform.
Unfortunately for Santa Ana Police, they happened to be in the neighborhood of city councilman David Penaloza who, like many of his neighbors, was awakened by the ruckus caused by the city’s police department.
Penaloza came outside and confronted the officer, who admitted that what he was doing was intended to prevent the video captured by Santa Ana Audits making its way onto YouTube.
“Because of copyright infringement,” the officer can be heard saying, in response to Penaloza asking why the officers were blasting Disney music in his neighborhood late into the night.
“This is my district,” the councilman tells the officer in the video. “You are not going to conduct yourself like that in front of my neighbors, apologize to him,” Penaloza demanded, referring to the Santa Ana Audits channel owner. The officer immediately apologized upon learning that Penaloza was a city councilman.
The tactic is a part of a growing trend of police officers attempting to avoid public scrutiny by gaming the algorithms designed to remove videos that violate digital media rights.
In 2021 in Oakland, California, police officers played Taylor Swift at a protest during the pre-trial hearing of an officer charged with manslaughter. In that video as well, the officer admitted the reason for playing music was to prevent video of the protests from being shared online. "You can record all you want, I just know it can't be posted to YouTube." In that case, the sheriff’s department released a statement saying that it would not happen again.
Two cases occurred in Beverly Hills, California in 2021. Once at what appeared to be a protest, an officer played “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Inside the Beverly Hill Police Department headquarters, when an individual was attempting to record himself filing a form to ask for bodycam footage, an officer started playing Sublime’s “Santeria.”
Another case in Illinois appears to prove that at least in some departments, police officers are being instructed to utilize the tactic. According to an incident report obtained by Vice, Officer James Knoblauch played music “As [he] was recently advised,” when confronting an activist who was attempting to turn in complaint forms about Knoblauch.
As for the Santa Ana case, Penaloza brought the issue up at the next city council meeting, calling it “one of the most embarrassing things I have ever seen in my life.”
He is also asking that the city amend the policy prohibiting officers from impeding on the public’s First Amendment rights to include prohibiting the tactic.
“The public has every right to film any of our city employees, police or not,” Penaloza stated.
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