The federal government has admitted that, while it can still regulate the commercial use of drones, people and businesses who make films or videos using drones have constitutional rights to publish them that cannot be violated.
The upshot, according to a new policy document issued last week by the Federal Aviation Administration, is that the agency’s inspectors no longer have the right to demand that drone filmmakers remove videos they post to YouTube or other online services.
“Inspectors have no authority to direct or suggest that electronic media posted on the Internet must be removed,” the FAA wrote.
In a tweet about the policy, drone expert Ryan Calo wrote, “The FAA concedes there’s a First Amendment.”
Ostensibly, the policy, titled “Aviation-Related Videos or Other Electronic Media on the Internet,” governs how the FAA can use videos taken using drones as evidence of illegal use of the flying devices against the filmmakers. “There are an escalating number of videos or other electronic media posted to the Internet which depict aviation-related activities,” the policy states. “Some of these posted videos may depict operations that are contrary to [federal rules], or safe operating practices.”
But the policy makes it clear to inspectors that in addition to prohibiting them from demanding that filmmakers remove videos, they must remember that the videos alone may not be enough to determine there’s been illegal activity that must be regulated. “Electronic media posted on the Internet is only one form of evidence which may be used to support an enforcement action and it must be authenticated,” the FAA wrote. “Electronic media posted on the Internet is ordinarily not sufficient evidence alone to determine that an operation is not in compliance with” FAA rules.
However, the agency added, drone videos “may serve as evidence of possible violations and may be retained for future enforcement action.”
To some, the new rules show that the FAA has overreached when it has tried to stop people, including journalists, from posting video taken with drones without getting clearance first.
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