Officer Claims Sheriff's Office Told Him To Play Copyrighted Music To Shut Down Citizens' Recordings

from the future-is-Denis-Leary's-'Asshole'-on-repeat-forever dept

The new hotness for law enforcement is trying to end the careers of police accountability activists. When approached by people filming them, officers from multiple law enforcement agencies have begun playing the zero-accountability hits, hoping that notoriously litigious artists like Taylor Swift and the Beatles will join forces to keep these recordings from being uploaded to social media sites.

The thought process is so simple a cop could understand it. When someone starts recording or livestreaming, crank up some music in hopes the copyright bots will recognize the track and shut the whole thing down. Even if it can't terminate a livestream, it might terminate a few pesky accounts with enough copyright strikes.

One law enforcement officer straight up admitted to the people filming him that he was playing music in hopes of keeping the video from making it past YouTube's copyright cops, much to the eventual dismay of his fellow officers. The Alameda County Sheriff's Department has learned from this Streisanding, and has since made it official policy to forbid the playing of copyrighted content for the sole purpose of thwarting the recording of officers by members of the public.

Welcome to the flipside. Matthew Gault and Motherboard have uncovered a document written by an officer who deployed the same tactic claiming his employer specifically directed him to engage in this IP-abusing effort.

On February 25, an activist running the YouTube account Accountability Angel attempted to enter the LaSalle County Sheriff's office in Ottawa, Illinois. James Knoblauch blocked her approach, ignored her questions, took out his phone, turned on Blake Shelton’s “Nobody But You,” and cranked up the volume.

According to an incident report obtained by Motherboard via a Freedom of Information Act request, someone told Knoblauch to turn on the music.

The recording of this incident can be seen here. And the report, written by Knoblauch, can be seen here [PDF]. This confirms previous reporting on the incident by Motherboard, which ran under the headline "It Sure Looks Like This Cop Played Country Music to Avoid Being Filmed."

In the video, James Knoblauch, who had been chief of police in nearby Oglesby until he retired (after previously being removed from office) last year, approaches the camera. Angel asks why she is not being allowed into the building with her phone.

But instead of answering, Knoblauch silently reaches into his jacket pocket, pulls out his phone, and starts swiping. Moments later, we hear music playing. He boosts the volume, just in time for us to hear the opening strains of country star Blake Shelton’s “Nobody But You” featuring Gwen Stefani

Here's what the report says [all spelling/grammatical errors in the original]:

Upon arrival, I observed a female, Angel Famer who I've had prior dealings with. At this time, I observed Angel holding up a selfie stick with a cell phone attached to it. It appeared that she was video recording from the vestibule area.

I then entered the vestibule area and stood in front of Angel and advised her that cell phones were not allowed in the building and that she would need to take her cell phone out to her vehicle or rent a locker at the jail.

As I was recently advised, I then turned on some music. At this time Angel became belligerent to me about the music. [...] I continued to stand in the vestibule area in from of her. Angel continued to say I was denying her right and that I was an oath breaker. Angel continued to be belligerent towards me with comments such as, shut your fucking music off and called me "no balls."

So, that's the claim made by James "No Balls" Knoblauch, former Oglesby (Illinois) police chief and current court officer employed by the LaSalle County Sheriff's Office. Did his employer actually tell him to thwart accountability by misusing the intellectual property of others? Knoblauch had better hope so, since it's right there in black and white on an official report. The Sheriff's Office has refused to comment on the incident, which suggests it at least implicitly supports his actions. But it will probably take another set of public records requests to uncover the truth.

Until then, we can assume Knoblauch is aware of similar shitty tactics deployed by cops elsewhere in the country. What he doesn't seem to be aware of is the fact that it hasn't worked yet. All this shows is Knoblauch is like those other officers: someone who thinks the people should continue to cut paychecks for officers who respond to accountability efforts with open hostility.

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Filed Under: copyright, dmca, illinois, james knoblauch, lasalle county, lasalle county sheriff, ottawa, police


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 11:57am

    Sometimes silence answers plenty

    Did his employer actually tell him to thwart accountability by misusing the intellectual property of others? Knoblauch had better hope so, since it's right there in black and white on an official report. The Sheriff's Office has refused to comment on the incident, which suggests it at least implicitly supports his actions.

    If the sheriff's office is refusing to comment on what should be a really easy question then the only reasonable assumption is that at a minimum they support what was done even if they didn't specifically tell him to do so and are just too cowardly to admit it, which honestly isn't any better than them having told him to do so outright.

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

  • icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:03pm

    Recording live events

    Concert performance artists claim a copyright on their performance and don't allow recordings. To me this is an affront to the rule that says that if my eyes can see it in public, then I can record it. The artists say by playing in a private venue and requiring me to sign T&Cs to get my ticket I waived that right.

    Fair enough.

    Out on the street, street performers don't have any of these conditions. It is in public, and requires no adhesion to any contract. I have the right to record them, and to play back that recording.

    The same SHOULD BE equally true if the performance artist is an abusive LEO and his phone playing whatever HE chose to play.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 1:39pm

      Re: Recording live events

      Out on the street, street performers don't have any of these conditions. It is in public, and requires no adhesion to any contract. I have the right to record them, and to play back that recording.

      The same SHOULD BE equally true if the performance artist is an abusive LEO and his phone playing whatever HE chose to play.

      Although that sounds reasonable, the bots that "protect" copyright don't know nor understand the difference.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 1:41pm

      Re: Recording live events

      To me this is an affront to the rule that says that if my eyes can see it in public, then I can record it....I have the right to record them, and to play back that recording.

      Even if being capable of recording something makes your recording an authorized copy, it would not grant you performance rights.

      And well... if recording an unauthorized performance makes your recording an authorized copy, then copyright would be intrinsically useless.

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

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 5:34pm

      Right to play public performances

      I think they're depending not on the complication of whether you have a legal right to record and play back events in public, rather the hyper-vigilance of services like YouTube to take things down if they can possibly cause a copyright uproar, and given that the labels hire legal services to screen YouTube and challenge ever possible instance (including public performances, overheard radio and baby dances), it'll create difficulties for recording activists.

      This is a can't beat the ride situation. Except that it's creating a lot of blowback when law enforcement tries to use this tactic. Hopefully the blowback is consistent.

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

  • identicon
    Chris Brand, 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:07pm

    Public performance license?

    I wonder if the cops have paid for a public performance license? You'd hope they're not doing anything illegal...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 4:16pm

      Re: Public performance license?

      I was wondering the same thing. Maybe they should call ASCAP when this happens and turn them in. Maybe there would be a reward.

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

  • icon
    Adam (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:22pm

    Fair use and Lenz v. Universal

    One question that I have thought about in these cases is that if someone wanted to and had the resources to fight these take downs do people think that Lenz v. Universal (dancing baby) case could be used as precedent to great effect?

    Thinking about the facts. A recording in public of a police officer which the courts have ruled is protected a first amendment right. Purpose of the 'work'/recording is is for government accountability. You'd have a hard time convincing me the recording damages the potential market for the song. And finally that copyright claimants must consider fair use via the Lenz v. Universal decision. All that considered I think courts should weigh heavily on fair use in these cases.

    If enough people counter-sue over these types of take downs you could possibly get the major records who would be losing money in court and lawyer fees pissed at cops too for wasting their money.

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:34pm

      Re: Fair use and Lenz v. Universal

      I don't think this is just a © thing but a youtube thing: Since © is an "opt-out" system, and the copyright industries go haywire if video services such as youtube or tiktok don't pay their tribute (I'm a © owner, so I understand), they automatically treat any work of authorship as ©'d until proven otherwise. Thankfully, YouTube (or Google, rather) has really good lawyers working there, so they can mitigate some of damage on how to apply © at scale and would probably leave the music up as there's a public interest angle there (and therefore fair use).

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

  • icon
    Blake C. Stacey (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:33pm

    The thought process is so simple a cop could understand it.

    Ouch. Tell us what you really think.

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

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 11:52pm

      Re:

      > The thought process is so simple a cop could understand it.

      Ouch. Tell us what you really think.

      OK, I will. Robert Jordan v. City of New London, 2000 "U.S. Lexis" 22195 (US 2d Cir. 23-Aug-2000).

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:55pm

    Have you any NEW OR IMPORTANT stories?

    Rhetorical, of course.

    TD has totally LOST on copyright: it's now so entrenched that cops use it to stymy nuisances.


    All I get (except for a one-liner) is:

    Techdirt

    Comment Held for Moderation...

    Thanks for your comment.
    It will be reviewed by our staff before it is posted.

    Back to the story.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:57pm

      Re: Have you any NEW OR IMPORTANT stories?

      And I'm IN! My theory is that posting over and again somehow nags the Admin until they relent.

      But who KNOWS? Techdirt won't say, would be another bit of evidence to support my view!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 8:44pm

      Re:

      TD has lost on copyright, you say? How's that Richard Liebowitz fund coming along bro?

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:57pm

    And now here's what was blocked in Mz's piece:

    ttps://www.techdirt.com/articles/20210909/22555247536/florida-presents-laughable-appeal-unconstituti onal-social-media-content-moderation-law.shtml

    As ever, all rests on your assertion of "rights".

    But corporations are fictions, having only designated privileges.

    Oooh, previously, after several attempts, a NEW result! Closed the browser!

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:58pm

      Re: And now here's what was blocked in Mz's piece:

      Before allowed to exist, corporations promise to obey regulations, and pay a fee for the privilege of doing business in The Public's marketplaces.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 4:58pm

        Re: Re: And now here's what was blocked in Mz's piece:

        Not so good buddy. Remember to only post one thing at a time. Also try to remember to stay on task. Good try though pal.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:58pm

      Re: And now here's what was blocked in Mz's piece:

      Standard Oil didn't have any right to grow without limit.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:59pm

      Re: And now here's what was blocked in Mz's piece:

      TODAY, Google cannot refuse OSHA inspectors from coming onto its premises to rummage in records that might convict: it has NO 4th Amendment NOR 5th Amendment Rights.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 1:51pm

      Re: And now here's what was blocked in Mz's piece:

      Mike's not gonna fuck ya, bro

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 3:07pm

    So, an obnoxious YouTuber marches into the police station with a selfie stick, making a scene, and the cops are a-holes right back to her, using copyrighted music to thwart her efforts. Nobody is coming out smelling like a rose.

    Were there other members of the public being caught up in this? I'd hate to be in there reporting a crime and suddenly be on the livestream of this 'activist'.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 5:23pm

      We expect the police to hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior than John or Joan Q. Public. Cops aren’t supposed to be a bunch of thin-skinned assholes. When they are, the behavior of the public is largely irrelevant.

      If a cashier at a Walmart did this bullshit to a belligerient customer, that cashier would likely be fired within the day. When a cop does it, we get excuses and justifications⁠—especially from bootlickers like you.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 5:46pm

        Re:

        I wish I expected police to hold themselves to a higher standard, at this point I expect them to act like any other criminal organization but worse due to the numerous legal protections they enjoy.

        Now as for what I may hope they acted like, that's a lot more in line with what you said.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2021 @ 7:06pm

      Re:

      How does that boot leather taste?

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 3:23pm

    Just imagine a world where someone can't upload the video because of the music the cop started playing... shouldn't the default position become to believe the person holding the camera?

    I mean if the cop wasn't doing something immoral or illegal why would they attempt to abuse the legal system to hide what they were up to?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 4:20pm

      Re:

      That's certainly my default position and I would hope more and more people adopt it as well. If a cop is trying to prevent someone recording them that's an admission that even they know they shouldn't be doing the action being recorded.

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

    • identicon
      Pixelation, 13 Sep 2021 @ 9:06pm

      Re:

      "shouldn't the default position become to believe the person holding the camera?"

      What if it's the monkey?

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

  • identicon
    Astrochicken, 13 Sep 2021 @ 11:06pm

    Livestream

    If I am livestreaming and then a cop plays a copyrighted song, why isn't the cop committing copyright infringement? Why can't the record label sue the department?

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 14 Sep 2021 @ 6:43am

      Re: Livestream

      Why can't the record label sue the department?

      I wonder if qualified immunity applies to © infringement. It would raise a question as to which interests are louder: the MAFIAA or the police unions.

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

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 14 Sep 2021 @ 12:53am

    you know the DMCA process is broken as hell when Law Enforcement is using said law not as intended to avoid accountability.

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

    • icon
      Ryunosuke (profile), 14 Sep 2021 @ 12:54am

      Re:

      let me clarify before "but it IS working as intended"

      yes, it is working as intended procedurally, but this isn't the reason DMCA was typically used for.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2021 @ 4:45am

        Re: Re:

        this isn't the reason DMCA was typically used for

        Given the number of instances where the DMCA is used to shut down access to content that someone else finds objectionable, and they rely on an expectation that said shut down should require minimal evidence and be as close to permanent as possible?

        Nah, this is the reason why the DMCA exists. A Trojan horse for heavyhanded copyright enforcement to get away with what they want.

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

    • icon
      Wyrm (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 2:05pm

      This strongly reminds of some copyright advocate a long time ago. He said that "copyright is not a tool for censorship". (Paraphrased)

      That was a lie then, and this case just adds to the pile of evidence.

      It doesn't matter what the original purpose was (hint: yes, censorship), the current implementation has tons of incentive to use it for censorship. If not directly against someone's speech, it can definitely freeze speech broadcasting by targeting the tools available to the public at large. (In particular thanks to automatic takedowns and presumption of guilt.)

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


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