And Finally Artist News Business News Digital Labels & Publishers Legal

Police officer plays Taylor Swift to stop altercation with protesters being uploaded to YouTube (watch it now on YouTube)

By | Published on Monday 5 July 2021

Taylor Swift

A US police officer attempted to stop a video of himself arguing with a protester from being shared online by playing a Taylor Swift song on his phone, believing it would trigger takedown systems if any such videos were uploaded, in particular onto YouTube. Which was sneaky. Although we do know this because the video has been widely shared online, including on YouTube.

The incident took place outside the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, California last Thursday. Protesters had gathered outside the court as a pre-trial hearing of San Leandro police officer Jason Fletcher was taking place. He faces charges of voluntary manslaughter in relation to the killing of a black man called Steven Taylor, who was accused of attempting to steal a baseball bat and a tent from a Walmart store.

During the protest, Sheriff’s Deputy David Shelby began arguing with a protester over whether or not a banner was a tripping hazard. Becoming aware that this discussion was being filmed, Shelby took out his phone and began playing Swift’s track ‘Blank Space’.

Asked if he was trying to drown out the conversation, Shelby replied: “You can record all you want, I just know it can’t be posted to YouTube”. One of the protesters then asked him if this was now police procedure, to which he said: “Not that I know of. I’m just listening to music … I am playing my music so that you can’t post on YouTube”.

Testing this hypothesis, the Anti Police Terror Project, which organised the protest, then posted the video onto YouTube. That video remains online, as do several news reports about it on other YouTube channels. And, of course, it is available on other platforms including Twitter, where the ATTP’s own post has been retweeted more than 4500 times. So that went well.

YouTube’s Content ID rights management system does, of course, frequently block videos that contain unlicensed music, and the blocking may occur during the upload process. But if that’s what Shelby was hoping would happen, he was mistaken.

It’s not clear if the video is available on YouTube because Content ID cleverly spotted the ruse and acted accordingly in the name of free speech. Or if it just failed to identify Swift’s music in the first place.

However, the video could as yet be removed from YouTube or elsewhere as a result of a manual takedown request from any relevant copyright owner. If such a takedown notice is served, the ATTP would have to claim that the appearance of the Taylor Swift song in it video was fair use under US copyright law.

Of course, there may be another case of copyright infringement here. It is not clear if the San Leandro Police Department has the required BMI licence to publicly play Swift’s music. If not – and it seems very unlikely that it does – then maybe Swift or her collecting society could take action against the police department. Which would be amusing. If also a massive waste of time.

But maybe there’s an opportunity here. BMI does already offer special licences for the use of music at political rallies, although that’s generally used by organisers of formal political events rather than protests. Perhaps BMI could start licensing police officers looking to soundtrack protestors off the internet with pop music. They’d have to ramp up the Content ID blocking first though.

Anyway, watch the whole video here (on YouTube):