These Aren’t The Drones You’re Looking For

The coolest technology out there for videographers and photographers these days are remote controlled helicopters, or unmanned drones.  These things look awesome.  And fun!  And…oh man, I just want one so bad!  It’s like a toy for your video jobs!  Imagine the awesome aerial shots you could get at a wedding, concert, festival, or other event.  Imagine the market in the real estate world!  Agents would be lining up for a chance to show clients aerial photos and video of houses and the neighborhoods in which they reside.

One of my favorites, is the very popular Phantom Quadcopter.

The camera stability is great, and it has a handful of cool features that make flying and landing easier than ever. This includes a “go home” feature that will have the ‘copter return to where it started from if the battery gets low or the remote control is turned off.

The problem is, the coolest technology on the market right now is illegal to use…at least for commercial purposes.

You heard me right.  It is a little known fact that if you try to use an unmanned drone (remote controlled helicopters are included in that description) for a project that is going to make you money, you could face serious fines or worse.

Don’t believe me?  Look it up.  The Internet is your oyster.


OK, so Obi Wan was referring to droids, not drones, but you get the idea.

Sadly, it is true.  Sure, you can use it for recreational use, no problem.  Just don’t fly it over 300 feet or the FAA might come knocking on your door.

I know what you’re thinking.  What are the chances anyone would ever find out?!?  And I totally agree with you.  I am tempted to try it too with hopes that there is a good chance no federal official would ever find out, or care enough about my tiny business to come a knockin’.

However, I also know this about copyright protected music, but I am not dumb enough to take the chance.  The consequences are just too severe.  It’s sort of the same thing with the drones.  Might not get caught, but why take that chance?

The other thing that would really hinder your chances of staying off the radar of the feds, is advertising.  If you want to have any chance of gaining business for this option of your business, you would have to either advertise online (or elsewhere) where the whole world can see it, or at the very least put it on your website.  A simple Google search for “aerial video in fill-in-the-blank-city-you-live-in” and voila – you have found your culprit.

Again, I doubt the FAA or FBI or whoever the heck enforces stuff like this is putting a whole lot of time searching for the scumbags who would dare break this law.  Unless you are flying near an airport and go above a few hundred feet, you’ll probably be fine.  But again, do you want to risk it?

Either way, I thought I would inform the general public, because, like I said, it is not common knowledge.  But remember, ignorance of the law is not an excuse.  So if you plan to fly drones for profit, be aware that you are breaking the law, and be ready with your cover story.  If you are looking to purchase aerial footage from an unmanned drone, be aware that whomever you hire is breaking the law, and maybe even you too.

There is good news on the horizon, though.  After doing some research on this topic, it appears that law makers are working on getting laws passed that would give photographers and videographers looking to make a buck, the opportunity to get a license to fly drones for commercial use.  It hasn’t happened yet, but as the popularity continues to rise (no pun intended) with these drones, so will the demand to use them for profit.  Today it’s illegal but tomorrow, who knows.

UPDATE (3/14/14)

A step in the right direction.  On March 6, 2014, Judge Patrick Geraghty, who sits on the National Transportation Safety Board, ruled that the commercial use of small drones is legal.  This overturns six years of a FAA policy that banned the commercial use of drones. Geraghty’s decision dismissed a $10,000 fine against an aerial videography drone pilot on the campus of the University of Virginia.  The FAA , however, plans to appeal Geraghty’s ruling and send the case to the Washington DC, US Court of Appeals.  So one step forward, but hopefully not 2 steps back at the end of the day.  Again, we will have to wait and see what the courts decide, however if they hold up this ruling, that will be a huge win for videographers and photographers who want to tap into this corner of the market.

One Response to “These Aren’t The Drones You’re Looking For

  • Thank you for the post. I’ll certainly return.

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