On Thursday, police in Los Angeles arrested a Tom Zebra, a drone hobbyist who was flying his DJI Phantom over the harbor in San Pedro, CA.
Zebra captured his arrest on video and, according to the arresting officer, the drone was in violation of Los Angeles Municipal Code 63.44.B.8
Media outlets, including TMZ (who first broke the story) were quick to speculate that the LAPD could use this particular code to severely limit the use of privately owned drones and protect celebrities from paparazzi who are adopting the technology.
Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, though, it’s important to look at what the law actually says.
Los Angeles Municipal Code 63.44 B.8 reads: “Within the limits of any park or other City-owned Harbor Department designated and controlled property within the City of Los Angeles… No person shall land, release, take off or fly any balloon, except children toy balloons not inflated with any flammable material, helicopter, parakite, hang glider, aircraft or powered models thereof, except in areas specifically set aside therefor.”
It is important to mention that the definition of ‘park’ as per this particular Municipal Code is any “public park, roadside rest area, playground, zoological garden, ocean, beach or other recreational facility area, together with any parking lot, reservoir pier, swimming pool, golf course, court, field, bridle path, trail, or other recreational facility, or structure thereon, in the City of Los Angeles and under the control, of the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners, the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches, or the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission.”
So, despite the fact there seemed to be no malicious intent on Zebra’s part, there is a precedent for his arrest.
The fact of the matter is yes, launching a drone in a public place is a violation of the Los Angeles Municipal Code.
But in no way is this going to deter paparazzi.
The durability of UAV batteries, accessibility of powerful cameras and the precision of GPS waypoint technology and automated flight is increasing everyday – making it easier and easier to exploit legal loopholes.
To truly stop the paparazzi from using drones, the city of Los Angeles will have to rely on existing laws regarding paparazzi and privacy or pass legislation that specifically targets the media’s use of drones.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com