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How Cops Use Copyright Laws to Prevent the Public from Recording Their Bad Acts

by Dale Chappell

It’s a disturbing trend, but one that’s very effective. Cops have been playing copyrighted music during encounters with people, in an attempt to prevent them from recording and posting video of the encounter to popular video-sharing social media sites.

Here’s how it works. “I am playing my music so that you can’t post on YouTube,” an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy told someone who was recording an interaction with law enforcement. There are filters that online video-sharing services use to block copyrighted material, like music that may be playing in the video. It’s a result of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), which is a law that protects musical artists from online piracy of their work. While noble in theory, it also blocks protected free speech online.

The filters are voluntarily used by video-sharing services in an attempt to comply with the DMCA. If even just a few seconds of music playing in the background of a video matches the filter’s settings, it can be removed automatically from the service’s website. YouTube, for example, has a very sensitive filter, so most videos will get blocked. While it seems ridiculous that a cop would be playing music during a hostile encounter with the public, the reason is rather ingenious. It should come as little surprise that cops have sense enough to exploit such a complex law to protect themselves. If only they would unleash that same ingenuity on finding ways to respect people’s constitutional rights. 



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