Officer Plays Taylor Swift Song While Being Recorded To Prevent Video From Hitting YouTube

The sheriff’s deputy was seemingly trying to trigger a copyright violation that many social media sites use to restrict unauthorized music.

Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy David Shelby is shown in video playing Taylor Swift from his phone as he interacts with activists outside of a courthouse. | YouTube/ Anti Police-Terror Project
Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy David Shelby is shown in video playing Taylor Swift from his phone as he interacts with activists outside of a courthouse. | YouTube/ Anti Police-Terror Project

A police officer was recently shown admitting to playing music while activists recorded him in an attempt to keep the video off of YouTube. Other officers attempted the same tactic earlier this year as U.S. residents are increasingly capturing footage of police interactions throughout the country.

On July 1, Anti Police-Terror Project policy director James Burch stood outside of a courthouse where a hearing was being held for former San Leandro police officer Jason Fletcher in the death of Steven Taylor. Fletcher was charged with manslaughter last year after shooting Taylor, a 33-year-old Black man, in a Walmart.

While outside of the Alameda Courthouse in Oakland, California, Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy David Shelby approached Burch and told him he had to move a banner he had hung, according to a video of the interaction. At one point in their discussion, Shelby took out his phone and began playing “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift.

“Are we having a dance party now?” Burch asked Shelby.

“No sir,” Shelby responded.

The person recording the video then asked Shelby if he was attempting to “drown out the conversation” by playing music.

“You can record all you want, I just know it can’t be posted on YouTube,” Shelby said.

Burch then asked Shelby if playing music was new protocol among officers, to which he responded: “I’m just listening to music, sir.”

Despite Shelby’s attempt to thwart the recorded interaction, the video was successfully uploaded to YouTube and, as of Tuesday, was still up. According to YouTube’s rules and policies, users cannot upload videos that contain any content that “someone else owns the copyright to, such as music tracks.” YouTube will remove any videos that violate this policy and issue the user a copyright strike. Other social media platforms such as Instagram and its parent company Facebook have enforced similar policies: users are only permitted to post short video clips containing live music to their pages.

Video evidence of police altercations have become critical in recent years, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, which was recorded by teenager Darnella Frazier and widely shared on social media. Floyd’s death and the video sparked a massive civil right movement against police brutality and systemic racism. Many people have since recorded their interactions with officers and posted them online as they could be instrumental if a situation violently escalates. Seven states now require police officers who interact with the public to wear body cameras while on duty, as part of an effort to hold officers accountable, according to the National Conference Of State Legislatures. Some counties and police departments in many other states have enacted their own body cam mandates.

Earlier this year, a police officer in Beverly Hills, CA used a similar tactic when an area activist began recording him. Sennett Devermont began broadcasting live to his more than 300,000 followers on Instagram in February as he went to the police station to file to obtain body cam footage. Officer Billy Fair pulled out his phone and played “Santeria” by Sublime after realizing Devermont was recording.

“I believe Sergeant Fair aka BILLY FAIR is using copyrighted music to keep me from being able to play these videos on social media,” Devermont wrote on Instagram. “He isn’t alone. I have video of this happening with another officer who played music as I was talking. Is this an order from the top?”

According to Vice News, Devermont recorded another video weeks earlier of a different officer playing “In My Life” by The Beatles when he attempted to speak to the officer.

As Deputy Shelby continued to play music in the APTP video, Burch turned to the camera and explained that the officer was attempting to trigger copyright violations on social media, adding, “he’s proud of it too.”

“The officer was trying to be a little smart, and it kind of backfired,” sheriff’s office spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly told The Washington Post. “Instead of censoring it, it made it go viral.

The YouTube video now has more than 683,000 views and Kelly told The Post that the incident is being investigated by the internal affairs department.