'Blue Line' Apparently Doesn't Apply To Bad Cops Abusing Copyright Law To Prevent Citizens From Uploading Recordings

from the try-not-to-be-such-an-asshole,-asshole dept

Last month, Sergeant David Shelby of the Alameda County (CA) Sheriff’s Office inducted himself into the Hall O’ Internet Infamy by openly admitting to people filming him that he was playing copyrighted music on his phone in hopes of terminating live streams, recordings, and police accountability activists’ accounts.

When confronted by activists, Sgt. Shelby pulled up a Taylor Swift track, hoping the fervent protector of intellectual property would keep the recording from being successfully uploaded. His effort failed. The interaction made its way to YouTube and to the internet beyond. Sgt. Shelby showed his whole ass and the world wide web was there to witness it.

This is a new tactic being deployed by cops around the nation. It’s not widespread, but it’s happened more than once, which implies cops are at least cognizant of one aspect of the law. But, to date, it hasn’t worked. The recordings meant to be terminated by copyright-protecting AI have been successfully published to the web. The inability to use copyright as a censor has exposed some cops as the bad faith operators they are — a list that includes Sgt. Shelby.

His coworkers aren’t happy. Emails obtained by Motherboard (and covered by Samantha Cole) show Shelby’s behind-the-blue-line compatriots thought this was an especially dumb and disingenuous move by this superior-in-name-only.

“WHYYYYYY?,” Miguel Campos, another Alameda County officer, wrote in an email to two colleagues that includes a link to a news story about Shelby’s impromptu Taylor Swift session.


Another officer replied that she’d sent lieutenants a separate email, and added, “Protected rights are a thing! We must never let our protection of laws override those protections. Also, if there is any uncertainty about what should be done….ask!”

Not all press is good press. That’s something cops should know by now. Even if local news outfits are unwilling to question cop narratives, internet denizens are still willing to ask the hard questions. Anything that shows cops are trying to abuse anything in their control to prevent accountability will be noticed and amplified. Sgt. Shelby’s co-workers are more aware than he is. And their complaints about his actions make it clear no one’s happy he’s drawn this much heat to the department and made them unwillingly complicit in his First Amendment violations.

The good news is all of the above. Plus this: the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department has issued a new policy two weeks after this infamous incident — one that forbids employees from being the asshat Sgt. Shelby was.

“Agency members shall not, purposefully and knowingly, use or broadcast any copyrighted body of work in a manner that will adversely impact the level of professionalism, performance, conduct and productivity that is expected of a peace officer or professional staff member,” and “Copyrighted work shall not be used in a manner as to limit the public’s ability to exercise their First Amendment rights as set fourth [sic] in the United States Constitution.”

Sure, cops violate policy all the time, along with the laws they’re supposed to be enforcing. But this bullshit actually turned into a specific ban on playing copyright gotcha with the people who pay their paychecks. That is good news, even if it’s inevitable someone will violate the policy and suffer nothing more than a paid vacation.

(Qualified) good news! But let’s just briefly address this assertion made in this article at Motherboard:

People have a First Amendment right to film the police.

Not exactly true. Several circuits have affirmed or established this right. But we’re still waiting on a Supreme Court declaration that this action is not only lawful, but protected. All odds point to SCOTUS agreeing this much is true. But, at this point, it’s not actually a “right.” Unfortunately, YMMV depending on your jurisdiction. Sgt. Shelby’s actions were complete bullshit. But whether or not it violated a right remains to be seen. And, as long as the Supreme Court leaves this question unanswered, people will be arrested for filming cops. And cops will escape lawsuits for violating rights that haven’t been “clearly established” by the top court in the land.

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Comments on “'Blue Line' Apparently Doesn't Apply To Bad Cops Abusing Copyright Law To Prevent Citizens From Uploading Recordings”

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Squirrels says:

Well done cops!

Look at that… one guy is an asshat and his peers are like "seriously… dude… what the eff?!" They aren’t upset that he openly admitted playing music to get the video taken down via DMCA. They’re upset because their peer trodded on the freedoms of those they serve.

There are a lot of bad apples with a lot of legitimate complaints about how officers go unpunished and problems are systemic. I hope this shows the good ones aren’t as silent as we may often believe they are.

Additional +5 points to using this opportunity to make a formal policy out of the incident.

Let’s all take a moment and appreciate the single act of positive progress made here.

MightyMetricBatman says:

There is still a major loophole in the policy. It only covers using:

Copyrighted work shall not be used in a manner as to limit the public’s ability to exercise their First Amendment rights as set fourth [sic] in the United States Constitution.

Next time Sergeant Shelby will be playing music that is out of copyright and in the public domain next time they are being recorded.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Public Domain recordings? Heh.

It will be difficult, but not impossible, to find music you can play over your digital device that does not retain SOME vestigial copyrights.

For instance: The Rite of Spring was first published in 1913 (for piano, 4 hands). An orchestral arrangement was published in 1920. Those are out of copyright, right?

But Rite of Spring was being revised regularly, until at least 1948, and reissued regularly since then. Corrected versions have been published as late as 2000 and possibly 2013. Stravinsky himself died in 1971; some of the work copyrighted under his name could remain in copyright until 2041. Some of the "corporate produced works" (the 2000 edition) can remain in copyright until 2120.

But that’s just the orchestration. To play it over his phone, Officer Unfriendly has to find a recording performed before 1923! And even then, it might still be protected until the end of this year. This is a result of audio recordings not being covered by federal copyright protection until Orin Hatch and Bob Goodlatte pushed for it comparatively recently.

Good luck, Officer Unfriendly!

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"that will adversely impact the level of professionalism, performance, conduct and productivity that is expected of a peace officer or professional staff member"

On the scale of things cops do that adversely impact the publics view of them this is hardly a blip.
Pretty pretty words, would be nice to see them ever put into action.

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