Santa Ana (CA) Council Looking To Ban City Cops From Playing Copyrighted Music While Being Recorded

from the fixing-problems-that-shouldn't-exist dept

A couple of weeks ago, a police transparency activist caught something on video: a cop trying not to get caught on video. That isn’t the interesting part. Lots of cops hate being recorded, even by their own cameras.

This Santa Ana police officer was rolling through a neighborhood — supposedly to investigate a stolen car — and blasting music from Disney movies from his cruiser’s loudspeaker. This is how cops have been rolling lately: firing up big hits from big IP holders with deep pockets in hopes of thwarting uploads or, at the very least, burying them under stacks of DMCA notices.

This move not only attracted the attention of people minding their own businesses in their houses (some emerged to complain about the volume of the music), but it also attracted the attention of city councilmember Jonathan Hernandez, who confronted the cop about his attempt to thwart a citizen’s recording.

Seconds after the music appears to abruptly turn off, a Santa Ana city councilman, Johnathan Hernandez, also asked: “What’s going on with the music here?”

The officer replied it had to do with “copyright infringement” as he pointed toward the man filming the video. Hernandez took that to mean the officer was trying to keep the video off social media.

This led to one of the very few worthwhile uses of the phrase, “Do you know who I am?”

“Do you know who I am?” Hernandez asks. The officer pauses, then says that he does recognize the city official — and his demeanor shifts.

“You’re not gonna conduct yourself like that in front of my neighbors,” Councilmember Hernandez continues. The officer apologizes to Hernandez, but Hernandez isn’t satisfied: “Apologize to him,” he says, motioning to the camera-holding YouTuber. 

I guarantee the officer knows now. The Santa Ana PD has opened an investigation into the blasting of a global media conglomerate’s copyrighted-to-fuck-and-back music to shut down an activist’s recording — something openly admitted to by the officer, who somehow has still managed to keep his name out of the (digital) papers.

Maybe they’ll name a law after this (not yet named) officer. The latest Santa Ana council meeting went into overtime. And nothing good was said about the officer who chose to turn beloved Disney tunes into a weapon against accountability.

Hernandez led off.

“This is a practice that no officer should engage in. There’s no reason to ever behave this way with members of the public, especially if you’re an officer with a badge and a gun,” said Councilman Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, who brought up the matter before his colleagues.

“The practice of utilizing music to deter members of the public from recording (police) isn’t something we’re going to allow to continue,” he added.

But he wasn’t the only one, despite being the councilmember on the scene of the stolen car “investigation” that somehow involved blasting Disney tunes at high volume for the sole (admitted) purpose of preventing activists from recording the officer’s actions and words.

There was a bit of hedging from another councilmember, but it ultimately ended in a full rebuke:

Councilman David Penaloza said that public auditors sometimes cross the line and antagonize police while recording video.  But, he added, the public has a right to film city employees while they are working for the public.

“That was one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever seen,” Penaloza said Wednesday.

Councilmembers may be a dime a dozen (and, to the officer’s credit, it’s probably difficult to pick out councilmembers from a lineup, much less a confrontation on some random street), but there’s only one mayor. And he wasn’t happy either.

Mayor Vicente Sarmiento agreed that the more important issue is that police were actively trying to prevent the dissemination of a video capturing their work. He pointed to well-known cases of police misconduct – Rodney King and George Floyd – that became public issues only after they were captured on videos that were then widely seen by the public.

The officer has become a conduit for action, presumably not in the way he intended.

The city of Santa Ana is considering whether to ban the controversial practice of police blasting copyrighted music to prevent videos of them from being posted to social media.

Sounds great but it really isn’t. It’s pure bullshit. This should not be happening.

First, cops should be in the business of enforcing laws. Their actions should not be so far off the rails they generate new laws. That is sincerely screwed up. No city should have to implement a law to prohibit behavior cops already know is wrong and (in this case) have admitted to on camera while engaged in public disservice.

Second, this is already forbidden by Santa Ana Police Department policy.

The Santa Ana Police Department recognizes the right of persons to lawfully record members of this department who are performing their official duties. Members of this department will not prohibit or intentionally interfere with such lawful recordings.

Probably not an offense that leads to instant termination. But why not make an example of this officer? Lord knows, cops and prosecutors love to make “examples” of arrestees by seeking “life +cancer” for tiny-ass drug busts. Why not show the department you don’t condone this action by canning the officer? Maybe he gets his job back once his union gets involved, but at least you can show pissed off citizens and city reps you aren’t screwing around.

Unfortunately, this will end with this cop being the impetus for wasted tax dollars. The law doubles down on existing policy, making the law redundant. And the officer may be sued for First Amendment violations, which means the city is going to spend money defending him, even though it has already declared his actions indefensible.

The most infuriating aspect of this whole debacle is the cop will get away with it. Even if he’s fired, he’ll get his job back. Even if he can’t get his job back in Santa Ana, he’ll have no trouble finding a law enforcement job elsewhere. The public will have its tax dollars wasted pursuing a bill that does nothing more than codify existing PD policy. As much heat as this has brought down on the Santa Ana PD, it remains the only game in town. And since it’s the only game, it can still set the rules, even if it means retaining an employee who openly admitted he was trying to thwart accountability. That’s the real con here. This is not a minor offense. The cop knew what he was doing. But I guarantee he walks away from this unscathed, free to violate rights and otherwise be shitty for years and years to come.

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Comments on “Santa Ana (CA) Council Looking To Ban City Cops From Playing Copyrighted Music While Being Recorded”

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Hmmm… that link states that he was probably anti-Semitic, though not necessarily any worse than others at the time, and that they didn’t even both to look at the alleged support for Hitler.

It could be that the accusation were overblown, but I don’t see that as a refutation of fascist tendencies, as per the comment above.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

You and Paul and both right.

In Paul’s defense:

Gabler said his Disney research for both books turned up nothing more “than the casual anti-Semitism” that was common at the time.

So I think the takeaway was not that Walt Disney wasn’t anti-Semitic but whatever he had was par for the course during his lifetime and wasn’t at all unusual.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

I’m not sure about the legal viability of it but it strikes me that if they really want to ‘dissuade’ such behavior and they’re in the mind of crafting a new law writing one up that any officer accused of such behaviour will receive zero taxpayer money from the city for their defense, and if the department funds it that amount will be subtracted from the next year’s department budget would likely do the trick.

Make officers that blatantly corrupt foot their own legal bills and they’d change their tune real quick, anything less sadly is just going to be ignored as usual.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:


I’m not sure if you noticed, but there’s not been a particular trend of police being held to account for crimes they commit in the course of their duties. Except, of course, when a viral video goes public and people are forced to take action, which seems to be the very thing that this tactic is meant to prevent.

Anonymous Coward says:


police playing music over loudspeakers be considered a public performance?

Somewhat – it appears you have to get a license from the songwriters and publishers (but not the artists?). And in this case, only for recordings made after 1972:

Although federal copyrights in sound recordings cover reproduction and distribution, they don’t include a general right to control public performances, except for “digital audio transmissions” like Internet and satellite radio. That’s why AM and FM radio stations, and businesses like restaurants that play music, have never had to pay record labels or recording artists, nor ask their permission. (Songwriters and music publishers do get paid for public performances, typically through collecting societies ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC). But recordings made before February 15, 1972 aren’t covered by federal law at all. Instead, they fall under a patchwork of state laws and court decisions, most of them pre-Internet.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:

Because the sarcasm is the argument being made – facetiously taking the original poster’s comment to the extreme of “we might as well do nothing because the cops will just ignore the law anyway.” – same thing as “your vote doesn’t matter, just stay home.”

second AC is taking the mickey to that argument (whether it was first AC’s intention or not), and using the sarc mark to make it clear they’re taking the mickey to it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe they’ll name a law after this (not yet named) officer.

God, I hope not. Laws named after people (victims, perpetrators, proponents) are almost always horribly drafted.

I will point out, though, that “police department policy” is not equivalent to “law”. The city council can make law, which can then be enforced (or ignored), but has legal weight regardless of contracts with the police union. The police department has a policy … which was already being ignored.

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Naughty Autie says:


Here’s the thing: the cops doing this aren’t relying on Dibsney et al.’s lawyers getting the videos pulled, they’re relying on YouTube’s ContentID system automatically pulling citizen activists’ videos. The cops know full well that ContentID can’t take context into account, which not only gives them some time before any crimes they’ve committed become known about by the general public, but may ensure that some cop-on-citizen assaults are never in the public record at all.

CrystalEyes says:

Couldn’t something like a fair use exemption be made where copyright claims wouldn’t apply to media that documents police activity? The exemption wouldn’t apply if the material was added to the recording, but would apply if a recording of police activity also captured audio being played at the time, or video visible in the background.

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