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Legal pundits were stunned this week by two court rulings. In the first, a Federal Administrative Law judge found that the Federal Aviation Administration has no current authority to prevent or restrict the use of remote-controlled aircraft being used for fun or profit in American skies. The second decision was handed down by the Massachusetts Supreme Court shocking almost everybody by finding it legal for scurrilous villains to use cameras to snap photographs under the skirts and dresses of women riding mass transit.

While the latter decision unquestionably caused the most consternation, the former ruling has far greater consequences for far more people. For, you see, the august authorities at the FAA
have been consistently maintaining that they have ironclad authority to control and restrict the use of so-called drones in American airspace. Furthermore, as is typical among many monolithic agencies, the FAA had a tendency to throw its weight around rather imperiously.

When it came to flying your RC aircraft to take pictures for money, the FAA essentially said that nobody could play. I can count on one hand the number of instances where the FAA actually approved commercial operation of a drone and, even in those cases, the operational requirements and restrictions were heavy handed and almost impossible to meet by mere mortals.

Of course, those of us familiar with the field have been very aware that commercial aerial photography has been accomplished with multi-rotor craft for many years now. In fact, USA TODAY recently ran a big feature devoted to real estate photographers and videographers who are making bank flying the same little Phantoms that Romeo and I are so fond of. Moreover, it is no secret that almost every single major Hollywood motion picture has a number of "crane" or "boom" shots that actually were taken with so-called camera drones. Not to mention the high tension line inspectors who use the technology or the wedding photographers who are promoting aerial bridal shots all over the net these days.

You may have noticed that on our own site we have stressed that we do not operate commercially. Frankly, that's because we did not want the 800 pound gorilla to come down on us and you can be certain that more than a couple White Russians will be downed this weekend as Herr Durscher and I celebrate our new freedom to make a few pennies shooting pictures for the people who have been bugging us to do so. We think this is a good thing - and not just because it benefits us.

You see, the government all too often takes stands that it can't properly back up (War Against Drugs Guys, are you listening?) I'm the first to admit and agree that responsible regulation of our skies and our commerce is necessary. However, when an agency with so little in the way of enforcement resources pretends that it can keep a real estate photographer or a wedding videographer from making a buck from consenting parties, it only encourages revolt. Rather than making it impossible to fly commercially, the FAA needs to encourage the responsible use of technology and focus on safety rather than draconian edicts that purport to ground everybody.

Of course, the best regulation is self regulation. Just because it is now legal to operate an up-skirt drone for money in Massachusetts doesn't mean its a good idea.

(UPDATE: The Massachusetts legislature has just enacted a law closing the loophole behind Wednesday's ruling. Sorry for those of you who were applying to Shark Tank with my idea ... :)

 


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