The Federal Aviation Administration recently sent a cease-and-desist letter to a drone operator that gives real estate agents who use drones to capture footage of listings new reason to think twice before posting videos of such footage to YouTube.
At the least, the letter implies that any drone operator who hasn’t obtained special permission from the FAA to pilot drones for “commercial purposes” should avoid trying to monetize those videos on YouTube.
At the worst, the letter indicates that the FAA considers anyone who publishes drone footage to YouTube to have used that drone illegally, unless they have secured prior authorization from the FAA, Mashable reports.
The FAA sent the letter to avid drone user Jayson Hanes, warning him that he had used drones for commercial purposes without proper authorization.
The FAA said in the letter that it had reviewed Hanes’ drone activities after receiving a complaint “regarding your use of an unmanned aerial vehicle for commercial purposes referencing your video on the web site Youtube.com as evidence.”
“After a review of your website, it does appear that the complaint is valid,” the FAA said.
In drawing that conclusion, the FAA appears to have indicated that it considers Hanes’ videos to be commercial products, according to Mashable.
One reason might be that the FAA believes that Hanes is making money off the videos. Hanes says he isn’t, telling Mashable that, although “monetization is enabled on his YouTube account,” he has not accepted any payments from Google.
Another possible — but perhaps less likely — reason that the FAA determined Hanes’ had broken the rules could be that it considers a drone operator to have violated the law merely by virtue of publishing their drone videos on YouTube, even if they don’t seek to monetize such videos.
The FAA has long maintained that real estate agents who fly their own drones to take pictures or videos of listings are not engaged in a “hobby or recreation,” meaning that regulators could attempt to take enforcement actions against them.
The latest letter should give some agents further pause before using drones for marketing purposes.
Only five real estate agents have acquired special permission from the FAA to operate their drones for commercial purposes. But those approvals stipulate strict requirements, mandating that the agents must be licensed to fly actual airplanes.
The good news for real estate agents is that the FAA has proposed less stringent rules that would govern the commercial use of drones weighing less than 55 pounds, and put an end to the need to apply for exemptions on a case-by-case basis.