Relations between police officers and the general public have grown in complexity in recent years, especially in light of the global Black Lives Matter movement which reached a boiling point following the death of American man George Floyd at the hands of police.
So complex, in fact, that the acronym ACAB (shorthand for “all cops are bastards”) grabbed the attention of Macquarie Dictionary editors last year, and now police officers are trying to use social media platforms’ copyright policies to prevent civilians filming them.
A Beverly Hills police officer was filmed last week by Sennett Devermont — a notable activist — while processing a freedom-of-information request for body camera footage.
Devermont recorded the encounter using Instagram via his activist account @mrcheckpoint_, when the officer, Sergeant Billy Fair, realised he was being filmed.
Fair decided to begin playing “Santeria” by ska group Sublime as an apparent act to deter Devermont from recording the encounter and receiving a copyright infringement on Instagram.
According to VICE News, because the primary purpose of the recording was not to intentionally stream copyrighted music, Devermont should be in the clear.
We all know how finicky social media’s copyright detection can be, however — Twitch’s DMCA mess made waves last year, including artists being punished for playing their own music.
While Devermont’s Instagram posts are currently still active, it’s reportedly not the first time an officer from the Beverly Hills Police Department has tried the technique, with another officer trying The Beatles’ music as a deterrent.
The main point VICE News stresses is that recording an on-duty police officer is legal in most instances, a right protected by the First Amendment, and that some officers are trying to circumvent this.
Locally, you can film a police officer in a public place as long as you are not interfering with their duties — which could be open for interpretation.
In recent years, Australian police officers have garnered criticism for disabling body camera worn on their uniforms, including one Victorian officer who obstructed their camera with a sticker reading “EAD (eat a dick) hippy” at a mining protest in late 2019.
In the NSW police force, a 2020 review upheld the protocol that body camera activation is up to the discretion of officers.
Body cameras are worn by police officers as a method of recording evidence for court proceedings but have previously been criticised for their selective use — sometimes for alleged PR purposes.
At least, for now, we know that recording police encounters shouldn’t get you in trouble with social media copyright policies, even if licensed music is played.
Even if Beverly Hills PD has no self-awareness with their song selection in not playing Weezer.