A “drone” by dictionary definition is a stingless male, honeybee that produces no honey and lives just to mate with the queen bee. Those are not the drones we’re talking about here. The drones in this piece can produce honey, for photographers, in the way of hard cash.
The FAA has restrictions on the altitude – typically 400 ft. – at which hobbyists and others can fly their drones or mini-copters. These restrictions are in place to ensure the safety of passenger flights by plane or helicopter. Police, park and fire services, emergency services, the FBI, highway departments and the like daily employ drones for law enforcement and/or public safety issues.
But at price tags as low as $300 drones are already in widespread use by ordinary citizens throughout the land. Farmers employ them to assess growth patterns or stages of their crops and others employ them for far less benign reasons. Some shooters use them to cover weddings, news events, ball games, county fairs, or provide private security to homes or businesses. The actual number of hidden drones with cameras can only be estimated. Issues of privacy and safety have sprouted nationwide and for the most part have been treated locally.
For example, the Texas House of Representatives approved a bill criminalizing the use of drones and unmanned aircraft to indiscriminately photograph or conduct surveillance on private property. The Texas Senate then rapidly amended the bill to permit the photographing by and of police officers while on police business. In other words a citizen could not be prevented from using a drone to photograph the questionable conduct of police officers – think Rodney King. Oregon’s statute is fairly similar to that of Texas
43 states are considering legislation regarding the private use of drone photography. Whether a real estate broker could create and employ drone footage in connection with promoting the sale of real estate depends largely on just what state of the Union that realtor calls home. Here again there is no one size fits all answer as to whether it is legal for you to employ a drone to create photos of your neighborhood or your neighbors. State laws control these issues and many states have yet to include the word “drone” in any legislation not written for public employees.
Businesses based in whole or in part on the creation of aerial drone photography are far too numerous to list here. We urge all photographers to check your local laws. Regardless of what your views on these issues may be, get involved in the legislative process so that these photo related issues are not left up to politicians who can negatively affect your right to make a living and/or protect your privacy. Don’t get stung by a drone politician.