Law enforcement in Illinois seem to be copying the “copyright hacking” cops of Beverly Hills—just this time, with country music.
In a number of instances over the past two months, an activist caught Beverly Hills police playing copyrighted music like Sublime’s “Santeria” and the Beatles’ “Yesterday” loudly on their phones in an apparent attempt to trigger copyright filters and prevent the video from being broadcast live on Instagram.
Now, it looks like the trend is catching on elsewhere.
On February 25, an activist who runs a YouTube account called Accountability Angel entered the LaSalle County Sheriffs’ Office in Ottawa, Illinois—or at least, she tried to.
The activist, who has asked to only be referred to by her first name, Angel, was there to drop off complaint forms, in which she was alleging misconduct of several officials.
In the video, we can see Angel being told at the front desk that she is not allowed inside the building with a camera. Angel had previously been in the Sheriff’s Office and had filmed that visit, so she asked what had changed.
Then, in something that looks like it was ripped right out of the Beverly Hills PD’s playbook, a man with a Court Security badge came out to play some music.
In the video, James Knoblauch, who had been chief of police in nearby Oglesby until he retired (after previously being removed from office) last year, approaches the camera. Angel asks why she is not being allowed into the building with her phone.
But instead of answering, Knoblauch silently reaches into his jacket pocket, pulls out his phone, and starts swiping. Moments later, we hear music playing. He boosts the volume, just in time for us to hear the opening strains of country star Blake Shelton’s “Nobody But You” featuring Gwen Stefani:
Don't have to leave this town to see the world / 'Cause it's something that I gotta do
Angel continues to ask questions, but Knoblauch says nothing, instead holding his phone up so that the speaker is overpowering the conversation.
Eventually, Angel realizes what’s going on and accuses Knoblauch of trying to use the music to trip up a copyright filter so that she can’t post her video to YouTube.
“Oh guys, you know what they're doing, they're trying to get me kicked off of YouTube for the copyright thing,” Angel says. Then, she speaks to Knoblauch: “What are you doing, Jim?” she asks. “Are you trying to stop my journalism?”
Knoblauch does not directly answer her question. Eventually, Knoblauch does speak with her, offering to take Angel’s forms from her, but the interaction goes nowhere, with the activist becoming audibly frustrated, saying she wants to be allowed inside to turn in her complaint forms herself.
Meanwhile, Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani’s country ode to lovers plays out in full. Up next, Knoblauch plays Florida Georgia Line’s “Like You Never Had It.” Angel continues to ask to be let into the office. Knoblauch just stands there, silently staring into space, as the chorus plays:
I'll have you calling your friends / Saying you ain't ever been / Skin on skin with a man like this…
Aside from the taste in music, there are some details that differentiate the Illinois County Sheriff’s Office from the case with the Beverly Hills PD—the fact that Angel was not broadcasting live, and that she uses YouTube.
In the case of the Beverly Hills PD, activist Sennett Devermont was broadcasting live on Instagram. This meant that if the tunes officers were playing tripped the music detection algorithm, the livestream could either be muted, or end outright, meaning that the footage could simply be lost. Similarly, if Instagram’s algorithm detects music in a posted video, the post risks being deleted outright by Instagram.
YouTube, however, can be a bit more forgiving. First, because Angel does not livestream but posts her videos after the fact, she could have a chance to edit out parts that contain music (though this would mean either muting or completely cutting out the entire interaction with Knoblauch). Also, when the YouTube platform detects copyrighted music in a video, it doesn’t always take the video down—though this has happened. Often, it will simply place ads on the content, and share the revenue with the song’s copyright holders.
Which is to say: If this is another attempt to get a video blocked, the strategy isn’t working in small-town Illinois any better than it did in Beverly Hills. Devermont’s videos are still up, and thus far, so are Angel’s.
Results aside, this is the first time a video like this has surfaced somewhere outside of California, suggesting that Beverly Hills PD isn’t the only law enforcement agency that may be beginning to experiment with “hacking” copyright filters in order to curtail the First Amendment rights of civilians to openly film the police.
The Lasalle County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests by VICE News for clarification on whether playing music while being questioned on video was official policy.