Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about whether it is legal to publish drone photos. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.
I have a question. My husband and I have devoted time and considerable cash to starting a legal, licensed drone photography business. Our local newspaper is publishing drone photography done by another unlicensed hobby pilot. Is this not illegal?
This is an interesting question, and one we might not have the answer to unless we get more information. First off, I want to say this is not legal advice and you should always ask a lawyer, but I’ll offer my opinion.
The key question is — did money exchange hands? If yes — meaning the local newspaper paid the photographer for the aerial images that they published — then what happened here was in fact illegal.
But if no money exchange hands, then there’s nothing illegal here, as long as they follow in accordance with recreational hobby drone rules such as staying outside of the 5-mile radius of an airport and remaining within visual line of sight.
If that’s the case, then the pilot flew the drone under recreational or hobby drone guidelines and simply “donated” the footage to the newspaper.
The FAA defines recreational or hobby UAS use as flying for enjoyment and not for work, business purposes, or for compensation or hire. According to the FAA, “UAS use for hobby is a ‘pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation'” and added that “UAS use for recreation is refreshment of strength and spirits after work; a means of refreshment or division.'”
We see newspapers publishing presumably unpaid drone footage all the time. I found this example from the Philly Voice which shows aerial images of Philadelphia pretty interesting — the newspaper went out of its way to indicate that the images were shared for free.
This leads to a bigger discussion around drone photographers sharing their photos for free in order to gain exposure — and how that may be hurting the Part 107 drone pilot industry and businesses like yours. I won’t go down that rabbit hole now, but perhaps I may save that discussion for next week (or for the comments section below!).