In the ongoing fight against systemic racism and state-sanctioned police brutality, a California police officer attempted to use Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” to prevent a Black Lives Matter activist from uploading a video to YouTube.
Hoping that the move would spur the popular streaming service’s copyright detection system would block the video—it not only failed spectacularly, but the officer has gone viral due to widespread attention surrounding the controversy.
The video above was successfully shared on YouTube, which shined attention to the ongoing issue involving the death of Steven Taylor. Taylor, 33, was inside a Walmart store in 2020, when Jason Fletcher, a San Leandro police officer, fatally shot Taylor and violated the department’s use-of-force policy by failing to de-escalate the situation and failing to use crisis intervention techniques.
On June 29, Black Lives Matter protesters gathered at the Alameda County courthouse in Oakland, Calif., before a pretrial hearing for Mr. Fletcher, when the incident with Officer David Shelby took place. James Burch, one of the protesters and a member of the Anti-Police Terror Project (APTP), was ordered by the officer to remove his group’s banner. Burch questioned why the banner needed to be taken down—before the cop takes out his mobile phone and starts playing the Swift song.
“Are we having a dance party now?” Burch asks, confused by the officer’s action. Sgt. Shelby eventually admits to using copyright law to try to thwart a Black Americans’ First Amendment rights, saying, “You can record all you want. I just know it can’t be posted to YouTube. I’m playing my music so that you can’t post on YouTube.”
Since its July 1 posting, the still-live link has been viewed almost 450,000 times, and has sent free-speech advocates rushing into action to highlight Sgt. Shelby’s abuse against the Black Lives Matter movement. “This video of a police officer taking advantage of copyright laws to avoid accountability is the latest chilling example in a line of abuse that stretches back decades,” Lia Holland, campaigns and communications director at digital-rights group Fight for the Future, said in a statement to Variety.
“The U.S. must fundamentally reform our archaic and corrupt copyright system to put the interests of artists and the public first in the digital era. The last thing we should be doing is giving copyright monopolies more power to abuse, and cops more tools to evade accountability.”
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has referred the incident to an internal affairs unit for investigation, the Washington Post reported.