During a protest at the Alameda County Courthouse on July 1, footage was taken of Sheriff’s Deputy David Shelby engaging in an argument with the policy director for the Anti-Police Terror Project, James Burch. In the video shared on the APTP’s Twitter account, the two are seen arguing about whether or the APTP’s “#Justice4StevenTaylor” banners were a “tripping hazard.” As the argument escalates, Shelby pulls out his phone and begins playing Taylor Swift’s 2014 song “Blank Space,” in a reported attempt to prevent the footage from being spread due to the copyrighted music.
The deputy was counting on YouTube’s Content ID system to flag the video for its use of copyrighted material and remove it from the platform, which in theory, could have prevented the confrontation from going viral. Shelby’s attempt did not go as planned, and the video of the incident currently has more than 800,000 views on Twitter and over 350,000 views on YouTube.
In the video, Shelby is heard saying, “You can record all you want, I just know it can’t be posted to YouTube.”
Cop Plays Taylor Swift to Prevent Video Sharing of Him Harassing Protesters ‼️
A cop demanded we move #Justice4StevenTaylor banners. We asked him why. He pulled out his phone & played a Taylor Swift song.
“You can record all you want, I just know it can’t be posted to YouTube.” pic.twitter.com/avpf1LUvCd
— Anti Police-Terror Project (@APTPaction) July 1, 2021
The protest took place outside of Officer Jason Fletcher’s pre-trial hearing, hence the group’s banners. Fletcher was charged with voluntary manslaughter in 2020 after shooting and killing Steven Taylor, a Black man, in a California Walmart in April. Taylor was being accused of shoplifting an aluminum bat and a tent when he was tased by officers for not complying with orders. After being tased, Fletcher shot Taylor in the chest and then allegedly failed to provide Taylor with proper, potentially life-saving medical attention. A Taylor family attorney reported that Steven had previously suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar depression, and was facing a mental health crisis at the time of the incident.
In February, a similar incident occurred when several police officers were filmed playing copyrighted music like Sublime’s “Santeria” and The Beatles’ “Yesterday” in an attempt to get a popular LA activist, Sennett Devermont, banned from Instagram for filming their conversation.
A senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Chessie Thacher explains that the weaponization of platforms’ copyright policies “does seem to be a trend right now.” She adds, “People have the right to film the police, and efforts by the police to infringe on this right are unconstitutional. So if they’re using copyright laws to prevent people from exercising their right — and amplifying what they’re seeing — then that’s a real problem.”