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Let’s suppose someone goes to a certain street and plays an audiobook recording about their political program every day on the speakers at loud volume. If someone walks up and switches the recording off so that it stops playing and causing a nuisance to everyone until they walk back down to the end of the street to put it back on, is the person turning it off committing any sort of crime?

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    I thought the question meant turning off someone's radio wave transmitter. Instead, it means turning off someone's loudspeaker (regardless of whether the audio data is sourced from a radio broadcast or local storage).
    – Nayuki
    Apr 20 at 23:45
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    There was a story a few years ago where someone was annoyed by the noise made by inflatable bouncy castle that their neighbor had rented for a child's birthday party, and went out and turned it off. This was definitely a more clear-cut crime, however, as the deflating bouncy castle endangered several children who were trapped inside it. Apr 21 at 13:45
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    @JosephP. I think the word for that is a boombox. youtube.com/watch?v=S5Y8tFQ01OY
    – Barmar
    Apr 21 at 15:10
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    There was a case a while ago where a police officer blasted copyrighted music over a loudspeaker so anyone who filmed them and tried to post the video online would have it taken down for copyright infringement.
    – gparyani
    Apr 21 at 22:26
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    @JosephP. Fair use is e.g. commentary, criticism, parody, research etc.; this sounds more like public performance with nefarious intent. ;-)
    – DevSolar
    Apr 22 at 8:31

3 Answers 3

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Not "illegal", but rather a "civil wrong" instead as this sounds like a (minor) case of Trespass to Chattels, being:

...an intentional interference with another person's lawful possession of a personal property. A "chattel" refers to any personal property, moving or unmoving. Trespass to chattels does not apply to real property or any interest in land. In order to prove trespass to chattels, you are required to show the following elements:

  • Intent to trespass: Merely intending to do the act is enough to show this element of trespass. You don't necessarily need to show intent to harm a specific person.

  • Lack of owner's consent: There must be an unauthorized, unlawful interference, which means the person interfered with or dispossessed the chattel without the owner's permission.

  • Interference of chattels: A person commits a trespass to chattel by (1) dispossessing another of the chattel, (2) using or intermeddling with a chattel in the possession of another, or (3) damaging the chattel. Interference does include dispossession of a chattel, but it must be something short of conversion.

Whether it would be actionable is another question as de minimis non curat lex

Although the above link is from an American site, it mirrors the UK definition and is the best and most succinct explanation I can find

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    The link also says "In a trespass to chattels claim, you can only recover actual damages (as opposed to nominal damages). Actual damages are measured by the diminished value of the chattel that resulted from the defendant's actions." In this case there is no actual damage, so there is nothing to be gained by taking it to court. Apr 21 at 14:44
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    If you have to walk across the street to turn the player back on, was it really in your "possession"? How is that term defined?
    – user541686
    Apr 22 at 5:36
  • My house is on the street, and buyers are discouraged by the recurring noise. Is that actual damages? Apr 22 at 15:31
  • American law doesn't have jurisdiction in the United Kingdom.
    – Barb
    Apr 22 at 18:16
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Probably Not

In most jurisdiction there is no specific law against touching another person's property without harming it.

On the other hand, the person playing the recording may well not be committing any crime either. In some places there are anti-noise laws which apply if a recording is played at more than a specified volume. In some places there are laws against "nuisances" which are variously defined.

For a somewhat similar fact pattern, see Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940) in which a person played a recording of a speech about religious views, and was arrested for "breech of the peace" when others present objected.

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    @Joseph P. Yes I underxtood that, I went a bit beyond the question. Cantwell is IMO a very interesting case, however, I recommend it to you. Apr 20 at 15:37
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    Yes indeed you did, which is hardly an aggrievance. Was just clarifying though maybe it was unnecessary.
    – Joseph P.
    Apr 20 at 18:39
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    @agemO Tht is correct, the convictions of the Cantwells were all overturned. Apr 21 at 13:32
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    As I recall, the Cantwells were charged with breach of the peace on the theory that the sermon played, being highly critical of the Catholic Church, could be reasonably expected to induce a violent response from offended bystanders. Under this theory the Cantwells were by their actions causing violence in a public place. The court rejected this theory on free speech grounds making a distinction between unpopular views to which some might respond with violence and "fighting words", insults deliberately chosen to provoke a fight.
    – David42
    Apr 22 at 1:56
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    @David42 Correct. The rejected theory is sometimes called "the heckler's veto"because it enables those sufficiently opposed to speech to induce the authorities to suppress it, by threatening violence. Apr 22 at 3:42
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It's not illegal or a civil wrong. You can either call the Police as its a public order offence to make noise above certain decibels in residential areas, or turn it off yourself. If the content is offensive or propaganda you are well within your rights to prevent the longevity of that crime. As long as you do not cause damage to the speaker you are simply stopping a crime in progress. If they want to turn it back on you can turn it off. I wouldn't recommend doing that though because you'll most likely end up I a hostile situation with the owner\user. Better to call the Police.

References:

4Fear or provocation of violence. (1)A person is guilty of an offence if he— (a)uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or (b)distributes or displays to another person any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked. (2)An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is distributed or displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1986/64

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    Thanks Barb but can you give any legal citations? On the one hand what if it isn’t in a residential area? On the other on what legal basis do you call it a crime if it is? Thanks
    – Joseph P.
    Apr 22 at 9:37
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Apr 22 at 9:40
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    Is offensive content or propaganda a crime?
    – user253751
    Apr 22 at 9:51
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    In cases where a speaker is producing loud noise but one can't see anyone whom one could ask to turn it down, turning it off oneself would seem better than calling upon the police to do so, though another post recently mentioned that it's sometimes possible to call on police to "standby to maintain order". If a cop is available to supervise an action which isn't expected to involve any crime or altercation, but might do so anyway, then not only would the cop be in a position to serve as a witness to any crime or altercation that occurs, but the cop's presence might prevent such disorder.
    – supercat
    Apr 23 at 19:24
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    Unless a cop happens to be very nearby already, I doubt the extra effort of involving cops in even that limited role would be worthwhile (since the owner of the speaker might show up before the cop arrives, and might turn down the speaker if simply asked to do so) but in cases where that doesn't seem likely (e.g. one saw the neighbor drive off while leaving the speaker on) someone who is on good terms with the police might want to be on record as intending to enter the other person's property for the purpose of turning down the stereo and offer to let a policeman watch them do so.
    – supercat
    Apr 23 at 19:27

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