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Can a Beatles song thwart police accountability?


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Surrounded by facial recognition systems powered by machine learning, autonomous security drones, and a network of biometric collection sensors, the protagonist of your average cyberpunk novel knows how to take action to avoid being seen. In the 2010 William Gibson novel Zero story, the plot revolves in part around a motif on the clothing that foils the surveillance camera recording. His since become a real thing, as often happens with Gibson’s technological thinking.

But piracy monitoring today can take many forms, some decidedly low in technology.

Video platforms such as YouTube and Instagram all have one characteristic in common: automated systems that limit downloads of popular music. In the name of copyright protection, a video featuring a hit song can be blocked, muted, or demonetized.

These systems stem from earlier efforts by the music industry to ensure that artists and record labels get paid every time a song has appeared on a TV show, movie, or more recently a podcast. . There is a hilarious episode of 30 Rock where Tracy Jordan sings to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” to avoid being included in a reality TV show.

And in a dystopian mix of 30 Rock and William Gibson, Vice News has a report on some officers from the Beverly Hills Police Department. Annoyed that a local activist was filming them and posting the videos on Instagram, the agents developed a strategy to thwart the downloads: they pop songs played loud on their phones whenever an activist shows up. Protected songs such as “Santeria” by Sublime and “In My Life” by The Beatles. (The ministry says the action “is not a recommended procedure” and is reviewing the situation.)

It’s a good reminder that as much as the use of technology influences society, the rules of society also influence how technology can be used. For good and for bad.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com





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