'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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Filed Under: 1st amendment, alameda, copyright, david shelby, free speech, music, police, recording police, taylor swift


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  • icon
    ECA (profile), 19 Aug 2021 @ 11:19am

    Wonder if

    The RIAA would sue him for Public distribution, as they have others, like the neatest bar.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Squirrels (profile), 19 Aug 2021 @ 11:35am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MightyMetricBatman, 19 Aug 2021 @ 12:09pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 19 Aug 2021 @ 12:48pm

      Re:

      And since the RIAA, acknowledged it Loves to send DMCA on all music, including stuff they dont own/protect.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2021 @ 12:59pm

      Re:

      Not sure how that's a loophole. The point of playing copyrighted works is to cause algorithms to prevent the video from being uploaded due to copyright violations. If they play something that is in the public domain then there wouldn't be a copyright violation and so it wouldn't be taken down.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2021 @ 1:05pm

      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!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2021 @ 12:17pm

    It pretty certainly violated copyright at least

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2021 @ 12:30pm

    I'd love to see their justification for promoting him to Sgt. The military and police seem to basically use them as participation trophies. Maybe like a short quiz on the Bill of Rights would be good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2021 @ 3:11pm

    Um, things aren't "rights" just because the supreme court says they are. Everything is a rights that isn't explicitly denied in a constitutional law. We don't need to why for the court to say it's so. Filming the police IS a right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2021 @ 7:25pm

      Re:

      While this is true, in practical terms it makes no difference, sadly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2021 @ 11:57pm

      Re:

      This argument has a 0% chance of succeeding in the initial contact. As the saying goes "you can tell that to the judge." You're still going to jail in way too many places. The supreme court ruling is desperately needed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Aug 2021 @ 5:53pm

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

    BWHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 19 Aug 2021 @ 8:09pm

    Wjy isn't the MAFIAA going after the cops for unauthorized public performance?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2021 @ 11:45pm

      Re:

      Sharks don't go after their own.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Comicbookvillain, 20 Aug 2021 @ 3:04am

      Re:

      For the same reason most comic book villains don't go after their stooges as long as they keep in line and doing their jobs (except for joker maybe, where it is part of showing his lunacity).

      It's hard to make people do, what you want them to, if you start attacking them for no good reason anyway.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 19 Aug 2021 @ 10:58pm

    Special class of citizen

    Not all press is good press. That's something cops should know by now.

    They know. They just don't care. The police are clearly a special class of citizen, to which most laws do not apply.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 20 Aug 2021 @ 10:39am

    Unhappy Co-Workers

    I assume some coworkers are unhappy about the Streisand spotlight that turned a neighborhood police activity into moderately widespread international news. "Way to bring the international media spotlight onto us, bro!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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