With the popularity of drone footage growing and growing in both the U.K and the U.S on social and video platforms such as youtube, how do we establish a clear line between hobby and commercial flights?
In the U.K the laws surrounding commercial flights are very clear, should you want to carry out commercial work (i.e getting paid for flying) you need to apply through the C.A.A. for permission for aerial work (pfaw). In order to gain permission from the CAA, there are a number of steps that must be carried out, including a theory test, the creation of an operations manual and a practical flight test. There are instances whereby you will need to contact the C.A.A to gain permission to fly that do not require a pfaw such as flying over a congested area or within 50m of a building.
In 2015, Youtube Content Creator Stephan Michelak flew his drone outside the Natural History Museum, without having a license or even knowing that you needed permission from the C.A.A to do such a thing. The police were contacted and Stephan was questioned about his actions but was not charged. He was later contacted by the C.A.A who had seen his videos claiming that they “breach the safety guidelines for flying drones”. Stephan later states;
“You finish the course and you walk away thinking ‘Oh my god I was so irresponsible flying that bloody thing for so long’,”.
Now in this particular case, permission would be needed to fly in a congested area and within 50m of a building but could this also have been considered commercial work as Stephan includes the footage in his vlogs which are monetised on the youtube platform garnering a reasonable income for him.
This is only once instance of a grey area within permissions for carrying out aerial work. On one hand the creator is receiving money for their services but on the other hand, it is not a service they have been explicitly asked to carry out; it’s not like property maintenance.
Youtubers are the prime example of this grey area in the U.K regarding aerial work, there is no set definition on whether or not they are receiving goods for services.
Now in the U.S, the rules are a little bit different. Commercial Flights must be carried out by Pilots who are Part 107 certified. The main difference with regards flying in the U.S in the different classifications of airspace. In some airspaces with certain permissions, you won’t need to contact air traffic control, in other instances, you will need to contact air traffic control. It is simply a means of knowing ahead of time where you plan to fly and what measures you need to take to ensure a safe and legal flight. Those with Part 107 permissions do not need to contact air traffic control when flying in Class G airspace but do need higher permission such as section 333 to fly in Class B, C, D, and E, whereby you must contact air traffic control. The rules for part 107 are similar to that of the pfaw, for example, you must maintain a line of sight with the drone.
The issue in the states comes when people try to get these beautiful aerial shots when they aren’t following the correct procedures and aren’t properly aware of any regulations they need to follow. For example, under part 107 pilots are only allowed to fly in Class G airspace.
Similar to the rules in the U.K, you can’t fly above people or close to buildings when flying recreationally or commercially but these rules can be subject to a waiver – meaning you must apply for permission to ‘break’ the rules.
It’s not clear from watching youtube videos or seeing pictures posted online whether or not the pilot has met the requirements for flying in the area or whether or not they know the rules and regulations surrounding drone flights, so it is very hard to judge and say whether they are flying recreationally or commercially. Also in the case of youtube, there is no definitive line on whether or not the footage is of commercial worth or if it’s considered recreational.
For example, this drone flight in over Venice Beach and surrounding buildings. There is no way to tell if the user has proper permissions or even if they are monetising the video.
watching youtube videos aimlessly for hours reasearching on online, I happened upon this video by Sawyer Hartman whereby he looks up the rules of commercial drone flying and decides that he is in fact not flying commercially but flying recreationally despite the fact his youtube videos with drone footage may well be monetized. (skip ahead to 6:18 to see him check the FAA Rules)
Surely instead of just guessing whether you are breaking the rules or not, there should be an actual rule set in place that can be easily accessed for drone pilots to help them understand whether their flight can be conceived as commercial or recreational
Another popular YouTuber, Casey Neistat, recently became the subject of an FAA investigation due to the content of his vlog footage. Neistat uses drones to capture beautiful aerial views of New York City, which is a problem because he was flying a drone in the city, sometimes quite literally in the middle of the city! In a video posted recently reviewing the DJI Spark, Neistat revealed that he was ‘banned’ from flying his drone in New York pending the results of the investigation. Here’s the interesting/strange/bewildering part; Casey Neistat was not fined for flying his drone in New York City. The reason that some of the complaints were closed is that it’s “indeterminable whether or not Mr. Neistat is operating the device”.
The FAA have a policy letter which states “Electronic media posted on a video Web site does not automatically constitute a commercial operation or commercial purpose, or other non-hobby or non-recreational use”. This opens the commercial/noncommercial grey area even further as this can be understood that posting drone footage to a monetized video platform (such as Youtube) and accepting the earnings from this video does count constitute as flying commercially. Also according to findings from the investigation, there wasn’t enough evidence to actually prove that Neistat was piloting the drone in the vlogs.
So to answer the question that the title of this blog post asks,
“Can I monetise my drone flight footage on video sharing platforms?”
to put it simply it’s not really clear on whether you can or can not.
It’s very unclear whether you can share and montise your drone footage on video sharing platforms as there are many conflicting statements and lack of clarity with regards what constitutes a hobby flight and commercial flight.
P.S. This may seem like I’m hating on Casey Neistat and Sawyer Hartman – I’m really not they are 2 of my all-time favourite YouTubers 🙂 They just happened to be the best examples to choose