Did Police Play Copyrighted Music to Prevent Video Streaming of Citizen Interactions?

Either these police really love playing Sublime at the office, or they came up with a creative way to discourage video streaming of police conduct.


Vice reports on an encounter between a citizen activist and police officers at the Beverly Hills Police Department, in which the latter played copyrighted music ("Santeria" by Sublime), in an apparent effort to prevent hte activist from livestreaming the encounter.

In a video posted on his Instagram account, we see a mostly cordial conversation between Devermont and BHPD Sgt. Billy Fair turn a corner when Fair becomes upset that Devermont is live-streaming the interaction, including showing work contact information for another officer. Fair asks how many people are watching, to which Devermont replies, "Enough."

Fair then stops answering questions, pulls out his phone, and starts silently swiping around—and that's when the ska music starts playing.

Fair boosts the volume, and continues staring at his phone. For nearly a full minute, Fair is silent, and only starts speaking after we're a good way through Sublime's "Santeria."

Assuming that Fair wasn't just trying to share his love of '90s stoner music with the citizens of Beverly Hills, this seems to be an intentional (if misguided) tactic to use social media companies' copyright protection policies to prevent himself from being filmed.

The idea here seems to be to play copyrighted music so that the algorithms employed by social media platforms will prevent the livestreamed videos from being played, and perhaps block the account of those attempting to post police conduct.

According to the story, this tactic is not endorsed by the Beverly Hills Police Department, though several officers have begun playing music when approached by citizens who sought to film their interactions. Thus far, it does not appear the tactic has been successful.

NEXT: "The New York Times and Modern Blasphemy"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Well, that’s certainly no reason to think the BHPD has anything to hide, or is attempting to deprive anyone of their rights!

    1. If it’s not reason to think the BHPD has anything to hide then they should stop using the “If you don’t have anything to hide…” line on suspects.

  2. I saw that earlier today, and was wondering if the VC was going to cover it!

    You know, if the police are trying to not appear like they are above the law and above the citizens that they are serving … this is not the way to do it.

    1. They don’t care if they appear above the law, by and large, they just want to continue exercising the privileges attendant to being, for most practical purposes, above the law. End qualified immunity and, in light of this and other intimidation tactics, put statutes on the books that make it illegal for police to intentionally thwart private citizens recording interactions between the police and the public.

    2. I don’t think anyone likes being recorded, it’s annoying. Politicians sign up for that, but it’s certainly understandable that your average public servant (like a cop) wouldn’t enjoy it, and is entitled to use legal means to avoid it.

      1. Your argument has a fatal flaw in that it’s been upheld numerous times that the public has a right to record officers performing their duties in public.

        1. Right. Don’t want to be recorded? Find a job in the private sector.

  3. Clever!

    I was quite surprised a few years back when an ice bucket challenge couldn’t be posted to Facebook because of a small clip of some old song. (Speeding up or slowing down the audio track slightly may avoid algorithmic detection . . . )

    Few industries receive favoritism and protectionism quite like Hollywood and the music industry, with their ever-expanding copyright terms.

    “this seems to be an intentional (if misguided) tactic . . . to prevent himself from being filmed.”

    More precisely, it is to prevent such film from being broadcast on social media. It does nothing at all to prevent himself from being filmed. Could be a meaningful difference.

    1. There’s a fine line between clever and stupid.

      This is trivial to deal with and makes intent rather obvious, a detail that could prove useful in future lawsuits involving the public servants in question.

      Smart cops might pause to give a thought to encouraging escalation here. If they aren’t being recorded by the person in front of them, they will be recorded in less obvious ways. (I know of a network of volunteer-driven ALPRs, for instance, that can already track at least some unmarked cars in my city. Just some cameras in windows, it is getting better slowly.) But most of them are not, and I would not be surprised to see one photoed with a ghetto blaster on his shoulder soon enough.

      1. Now that I’ve watched the video, it is pretty stupid if the cop thought that playing a barely audible song on his phone speaker that hardly gets picked up by the other phone doing the recording would have such an effect. Generally agree with what you’re saying too.

    2. How difficult is it to strip the song out of the digital audio? I haven’t done it myself, but I know that background noise can be.

      As to copyright, it will be interesting to see what happens on January 1, 2024 when Mickey Mouse (i.e. the Steamboat Willie cartoon) is *finally* supposed to go into public domain — some 96 years after its initial copyright. It will be interesting to see if there is a “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” part deux.

      1. Can’t get “manipulated” video into evidence.

        1. Oh, wait. You can if it is an impeachment ‘trial’.

        2. If one needed to get the video into evidence in a civil or criminal case the copyright issue would not matter as copyright can’t prevent the admission of the original. This is just an attempt to stymie dissemination of the video to the general public via social media.

          I know little about copyright law but I would think this would be “fair use” anyway. As well publication of such videos seeminly poses no threat to the copyright holder’s financial or IP interests as no one is going to watch/listen to such videos with their very low quality and incomplete songs which are “overspoken” by people talking instead of buying the song. Of course, FB’s and other social media automated filters won’t realize this so one would have to go to the trouble to attempt to convince the social media companies that this was not a copyright violation (of course only if it actually isn’t).

      2. In my case the song clip wasn’t background noise but was added in video post-processing.

    3. Wouldn’t this count as a public broadcast for a commercial reason?

      It would differ from a commoner walking around without their earphones, coincident that others hear, into a deliberate, job-related broadcast for the purpose of others hearing.

      1. And, if provable it was to try to trigger YouTube copyright protection bots, a deliberate copyright violation at that.

        1. Good point.

          And a career ending one as any intrepid defense attorney, on cross for *any* crime, can ask “Officer, have you ever deliberately violated a Federal statute in an attempt to violate a citizen’s civil rights?”

  4. Isn’t there a “fair use” exception when the music is incidental to reporting on a newsworthy event? Otherwise, why wouldn’t this be an issue when the media covers political rallies?

    Personally, I think the tactic is stupid because the person could stream video-only and then it’s a case of an unfriendly audience *guessing* what the officer is saying. Or worse, the video being streamed later, with subtitles replacing the audio, and try to prove that it wasn’t what the officer said….

    1. There are mechanisms to getting videos re-posted when music is in the background.

      We had a dance recital video taken down. We appealed and then it was reinstated without explanation some time later.

      1. The advantage of live streaming is that no matter what happens — the cops seize/destroy the camera or even shoot/kill you — they can’t prevent what already went out from going out. It’s kinda like having the feed from surveillance cameras going to a remote location elsewhere — even if you destroy the camera, there still is a recording of you coming up to do it.

        But if music causes the live stream to be terminated, then all you have is a recording which can be seized or destroyed. You can’t appeal a video that no longer exists.

        1. I’ve wondered why there isn’t an “instant on streaming” app, so you can start it and boom, streaming and recording elsewhere instantly. No logging in or other fumbling needed. Like touching the camera button, but on steroids.

          Make sure the app needs a password to edit or delete remotely, for that matter.

          1. Panopticon is coming, and the only way to stop government abuse is to have that tech in the hands of the people. Sucks, but there is no other way.

          2. Like “butt dialing” isn’t bad enough…

          3. There are a few out there. Without double-checking, I think the general idea is as you suggest, easy-on, starts streaming/recording to an off-site location, generaly with a non-profit group that’s interested in criminal justice/reform and so-on.

            But they all suffer the same problems: (1) you have to have it installed ahead of time. If this isn’t a realm you’re plugged into, you’re a lot less likely to have such a specific “paranoid about police” app installed. (2) If you don’t practice and use something regularly, it becomes increasingly less likely that in a stressful high-tension situation (such as most situations involving cops) that you’ll think of and properly use it.

            On the flip-side, we have a growing share of the population that regularly uses other kinds of streaming/recording apps. So when they hit a situation where they need/want to record/stream something, they go for the familiar.

            So it’s not a technology problem, it’s a habit problem.

    2. Isn’t there a “fair use” exception when the music is incidental to reporting on a newsworthy event? Otherwise, why wouldn’t this be an issue when the media covers political rallies?

      There are lots of fair use exceptions. You completely misunderstand the point. Most social media sites have an automated process for taking down material with copyrighted material. Those automated systems don’t take fair use into account.

      1. Sort of. Most of them let you argue fair use to reinstate the content.

        1. Of course. But that’s a whole appeal process — which most people won’t bother to go through — during which the content is not available.

      2. And as any copyright lawyer will tell you, fair use is about as far from “automated” as you will find in modern law.

        The Chancellor’s foot is more like it.

  5. Next thought-

    If they are going to do it, why not play, “The Police?”

    …Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you …

    (Appropriate of nothing else in this thread, I was at a wedding once, and the bride and groom had that song as their wedding song. I’m pretty sure they never really listened to the lyrics very closely. I mean, could have been worse. “Inside him, there’s longing … this girl’s an open page …”

    1. In this particular context, not playing “Axel F” is a huge missed opportunity.

    2. Nah, they should play the theme song from COPS.

    3. I’m just going to say … these are all good suggestions. Keep ’em coming. Maybe we can come up with the best!

      (Note: If this officer had a sense of humor, he’s probably go with Ice T and Cop Killer, just to mess with the guy recording it.)

      1. Axel F by Harold Faltermeyer.

    4. One of my coworkers had a go ’round with the priest planning her wedding. He refused her first choice of recessional music; “another one bites the dust”.

      1. Hehe. That’s a good one.

        1. For a wedding recessional?

          1. That’s what I was thinking — that must be a pretty hip priest to permit anything but the church’s organ to be used — or was she going to try to play it on that?

            That would be “interesting…”

            1. That has nothing to do with it.

              If I was the groom, and my bride wanted “another one bites the dust” as the wedding recessional, I think I would start having second thoughts about going through with the wedding.

          2. Take some irony pills.

  6. The officer is not the bad guy here.

    1. Actually, he is.

      He took an oath to defend the civil rights of A-holes.

    2. Yes, he is.

    3. Why do you say that?

    4. Look, I don’t love Sublime but that doesn’t make them the bad guys, here.

    5. Sure he is. If somebody has a right to do something, he’s the bad guy if he does anything to interfere with their doing it.

      And in particular, attempting to make sure an interaction with the public can’t be documented? Absolutely bad guy behavior for a cop, or any government employee.

    6. So Bob managed to say something so misguided that he raised the ire of Dr. Ed, Brett, Matt, and Harvey. Wow.

      1. Hey, NOVA Lawyer.

        You won a prize in the election contest (after a tiebreaker by lots). I can’t remember whether it was first or second, but it’s in the Thursday threads. Please provide an email address so we can arrange delivery of your prize (and, although it’s a geographic longshot, perhaps the magnificent bottle of beer that has been residing in my office). Congratulations. Thank you.

    7. Someone deliberately tries to hide his own actions. When he is on the public payroll. Yeah, he is bad.

    8. Yes, he is.

      Wouldn’t it be nice to feel like you were on the right side of an argument just once?

    9. The cops are *never going to give that up,* are they?

  7. Isn’t the police officer potentially liable for copyright infringement due to the public performance of the copyrighted music?

    1. You think people can’t play copyrighted music on their boom box, iPhone, etc in public, if it’s audible to others???

      God, if only that were true. I have a next-door-neighbor who blares his (her??) music at midnight.

      1. Try sending her a copyright infringement C&D. Maybe that will help.

      2. This isn’t the same as an individual playing music that is incidentally overheard by another person in public. This is someone who, in the course of conducting business, is playing music with the intent that it is heard by a member of the public. This is a clear-cut “public performance” and is a violation of copyright.

  8. The cops are *never going to give that up,* are they?

    1. They’ll never let us down … never run around and desert us!

      1. One of these days that old joke will become new again and will seek new victims.

  9. We’re not going to fall for a banana in the tailpipe.

    1. How about a potato in the tailpipe?

      1. You know, I’m not sure what that would do with a cat converter.

        Filling the cat converter full of fuel could get interesting.

        1. Has nothing to do with the catalytic converter.

          What Happens When You Put a Potato in a Tailpipe? Seriously.

          What’ll happen — if the engine’s running, and you secure the potato in there tightly — is that the car will stall. If you block the exhaust gases from getting out through the tailpipe, there will be no room for fresh air to get into the combustion chambers, and the engine won’t be able to run.

          Or, if the car is not running when you “install” the potato, the car will start up and run briefly, and then stall.

          If you want the potato to shoot out of the tailpipe, you’ll have to be a little more deliberate. Try one of those little, red “new potatoes.” You’ll have to make it fit perfectly inside the tailpipe — not too loose, not too tight. Bring a potato peeler with you so you can make last-minute adjustments.

          If you want to stop up the exhaust, a potato will do a much better job than a banana.

  10. It’s ridiculous that copyrights are extended in perpetuity to protect the oligarchs.

    1. Well, they’re finally not. Works started entering the public domain again recently, but copyright terms are indeed ridiculously long.

    2. You can thank Sonny Bono for dying on the ski slopes, and the late Justice Ginsburg for thinking she understands copyright law. Yes, it is an abominaton.

      Consider that right after the founding, the copyright term was 14 years, extendable for another 14. Now it is life of the author, plus 75 years.

  11. Another problem with this is that almost every PD in the country has a policy prohibiting rude and discourteous behavior by officers. Turning away from a citizen and playing with your phone would fit here. They may have a policy against using personal electronics when dealing with the public as well.

  12. I think it’s in the fair usage domain and they won’t be held liable. People are using the free app to stream everything, why cops can’t.

  13. It’s ridiculous that copyrights are extended in perpetuity to protect the oligarchs. My Music Goals

Please to post comments