A clever Beverly Hills police officer allegedly tried to thwart a police-reform activist’s attempt to post an unflattering video of the officer’s conduct by blasting Sublime’s song “Santeria” from his phone. Why would he do that? The officer apparently realized that since “Santeria” is copyrighted, Instagram’s automatic content filter would take down the video.

If true, this is troubling. Cases like this show that copyright systems in the digital age pose a unique challenge to civil liberties and the public’s right to know what their government is up to. This is not just an issue with Instagram and police: bots on many platforms can take down information that should be freely available to the public. Bad public policy is to blame.

Copyright bots are automated programs that search digital content to identify copyright infringements. Google’s Content ID for YouTube is a prominent example. According to a Google publication, 98 percent of YouTube’s copyright issues were handled through the automated Content ID system in 2018.

When a user uploads a video to YouTube, Content ID scans the contents against a database of files submitted by digital content owners. If the newly uploaded video matches a copyrighted file, the copyright holders have the option to make money from the offending video, be granted access to the video’s viewing statistics, or have the video taken down.