'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.