It’s not unheard of for people to bend laws to their own uses. The latest attempt of this kind, however, was an unusual effort by an Oakland police officer to prevent publication of videos of him … by playing Taylor Swift’s music while he was being filmed.
Officer on Aux
Members of the Anti-Police Terror Project, a community organization, were recently protesting the death of Sam Taylor, a Black man killed in an encounter with police, outside an Alameda County courthouse.
A video posted to the group’s YouTube channel shows them arguing over the placement of a banner with a police officer, who then begins to play Swift’s music on his phone. As "Blank Space" continues in the background, the officer responds to the APTP’s members’ questions about his music choice with, "You can record all you want, I just know it can’t be posted to YouTube."
The officer does acknowledge that this tactic is not a "specifically outlined" procedure. His department has since responded to the incident by saying they did not condone the officer’s actions, and that the video would undergo review by their internal affairs bureau.
Artists online have found success in using the might of Disney’s legal team to take down websites that steal artwork for T-shirts. By tricking the bots that often harvest artists’ work into selling goods emblazoned with Disney copyrights and then reporting the violation, they successfully shut down many operations of this kind. Revenge is sweet … especially when you get Disney’s lawyers to get it for you.
Copyright owners are typically responsible for monitoring and then taking actions against copyright violations. Because of this, certain copyright management teams, including Disney’s and Swift’s, have developed reputations for stricter copyright management than others, hence the use of Swift’s music in this incident.
Why exactly did this cop think that playing Taylor Swift would protect him? As the APTP members discuss in the video, the idea was that if the clip was uploaded to a video-sharing site like YouTube, its filters would automatically flag the video as copyrighted content and take it down.
Unlike some other forms of copyright, copyright for songs is automatically granted (no need to formally register with the U.S. Copyright Office) and belongs to the song’s writers. Many of Swift’s original song recording copyrights, also known as "masters," are infamously no longer under her ownership. Artists signed to large recording labels typically sign over some, or all, of these rights to the label.
Though the video posted by the APTP has not been removed from YouTube, if its copyright violation is flagged, the current copyright owner can allow permission for its use, which will resolve the copyright issue. This is also how artists or record labels license their music for use in other media.
However, this incident is notable not for its absurdity, but for its potential implications on the free sharing of information.
- Copyright Law (FindLaw’s Intellectual Property)
- Copyright Registration of Sound Recordings (FindLaw’s Intellectual Property)
- Can Musicians Get Politicians to Stop Playing Their Songs? (FindLaw’s Law and Daily Life)