A tussle over airspace. Could news drones be collateral damage?


It's a crisp autumn day and the news director has asked for drone video of fall colors. You know just the place: a rise aside a subdivision that borders a state park whose oaks and sugar maples are a riot of colors. You take off and, with camera pointed forward, fly a conservative 80 feet above 13 of the subdivision's homes en route to the state park. The combination of homes in the foreground and a wall of fall color in the background makes a great composition.

And, if one semi-official group gets its way, it also exposes you to at least 13 civil suits for trespassing. And more legal exposure capturing video of those 13 houses.

In 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the airspace above us belonged to the federal government. A 1962 court decision affirmed that federal law pre-empted local laws when it came to aviation. But if it's up to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (more often known as the Uniform Law Commission), homeowners and states will control the lower 200 feet of that airspace - and property owners will have rights that could create a chilling effect on the media's use of drones. The group is scheduled to discuss it at its annual meeting July 21-25.

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