Attack on the Drones! Is Shooting with a Drone Camera Legal?

DJI Phantom helicopter with a GoPro camera flying in the sky


Its truly unfortunate.


California is a very tough place to enjoy anything nowadays. California is know to have the most restrictive laws. For instance its one if the 10 most restrictive on guns in the whole country. It also produces the wierdest laws for instance this is a fact.....California law prohibits a woman from driving a car while dressed in a housecoat. (Its a real law look it up!)
Its obvious that the laws in each state vary hey I just found out my parrot was illigal to possess in New Jersey. Its considered an avasive species, so its important to understand the law and how it applies to us when flying a drone.
Its also obvious we're not going to fly through Times Square or take footage of Landmarks because they all are protected by a slew of yellow tape laws. 
On the other hand if we have persmision to film on a beach or in a park by a manager and we have a camera crew and we don't raise "suspicion" than they can't fine or prosecute you for any reason. Suspicion is the driving force of the law and this is where we're set apart from people who can or will use a drone for malicious reasons. Unless your suspected of a crime they can't do anything. Not too many people have drones so police aren't versed in handling these situations. The worste thing that could happen is we can't use the footage or we're told not to film. Itms only happened to me once and thats because someone conplained. I live in Wayne NJ and fly almost everyday and people seem to love it and come to my house and ask if I can show thier kids.
Its very important that we don't push the limits of state laws and go crazy by filming things that are protected by permissions and laws. If its a controlled shoot and people see we are working then it will only bring attention but its going to be very rare that we'll be approached by F.B.I because we're trying to shoot a money shot at the beach. 
It does suck that the laws are prohibiting these drones in the future we just have to read the fine lines and do things the right way. Release forms etc. Unless your in a trench coat in an alley way with glowing eyes flying a drone you will most definitely won't be considered "suspicious" but thats not the case in all reality it just gets people's attention and curiousity. I'm just glad I don't live in California. Some states have the most ridiculous laws. But thise are the states that "hysteria" rules the land. Very unfortunate.

Be careful...

Thanks for your comment.  I do have to say that the drones themselves draw a lot of attention.  During a shoot for "I Almost Got Away With It" (on Investigation Discovery), we had Oakland Police stopping every 5 minutes to check out shooting permits.  Luckilly, nobody knew about the FAA rules yet.  Now, just about every police department in the country has the memo.  I'm also an AMA member (Academy of Model Aeronautics), and there are reports all over the country of Police departments taking drones from hobbyists and "double checking" that they aren't invading privacy, nor flying where they shouldn't.  So, if you fly it... have a laptop handy to show any curious police officers the footage so they don't take it in for review.  I should say that nearly all of the reports of having drones confiscated have resulted in them being returned... but it can take days or even weeks.


videobug's picture

i'm glad there are no restriction flying hobby drones in Canada, for the time being, who knows if the government find a way to make money selling licences to fly drones, we will have to go by the rules.$$$$

Legal Drone Operation

You can get an SFOC for legle operations in Canada. Other countries in Europe allow for legle commercial use. The U.S. is years behind in the airspace integration effort. If you want more info you can find me @ I'd be happy to discuss the laws and issues.   


Thanks for the excellent information.  This is something I run into on almost every shoot and questions always arise.  This helps.


WM's picture

I'd like to know what the laws are from state to state. I often shoot stock footage and I had a copter that was basically in my shopping cart ready to be bought. Now, the uncertainty is making me wait. I'm actually surprised. I was looking at the Spreading Wings S800 which is for professional videographers. I can't believe this is the first I've heard of it. 


I have to say that some of the worries of drones is a little dumb. Celebrities? Who cares. Bombs maybe but couldn't you already do that with RC cars/boats. Guns? Come on. They'd have to build a real helicopter with a targeting system. I could hit someone with my car but I'm allowed to drive it. What about the good things you could do? Find people in burning buildings, investigate structures, help police, whatever else. Hobbyists could serve the greater good if they were allowed to practice.


I think they could make people register and get licenses. I'd be cool with that. 

Aerial Videos

Ed Merritt's picture

On YouTube, there is a filmmaker by the name Tom Antos. He has produced a couple of drone aerial films, one called "Sky's the Limit" using the UAV mentioned in this article. He is re-engineering the UAV and hopes to produce a turnkey shoot-out-of-the-box system. Check out his channel:



Wind the video back to see the entire clip, but I wanted wedding videographers to see the clip starting at 2:02. Imagine what the bride and groom will think when it's legal to do this!


APost's picture

There was recently a very good webinar series presented by Parker Gyokeres of Propllerheads  via ASMP that covered a LOT of UAV ground.  The very first session addressed the legality issue featured an AMSP lawyer who is in the thick of the legal side of this issue. The lawyer agrees with a lot of what has been said here. Fly at your own risk, the FAA just doesn’t like this technology. 

  • There are good reasons they should not, as there are LOTS of amateurs flying in very unsafe ways which are covered in this thread

  • You have heard that the FAA is handing out $10K fines left and right.  The reality is that it was ONE fine, and that the court ruled against the FAA saying in short, that the FAA does not have the authority to levy fines against activities for which there are no laws just because they don’t like the activity. 

The FAA has, if I understand correctly, only very recently (within the past few weeks) submitted PROPOSED regulations which are at this time not law.  I am at this moment waiting for a heavy lift Octo so have also invested heavily.  

I believe that the FAA would like nothing more than to have us all panic and end an industry.  As for me and my company, we will operate in the safest possible manner and carry on in a manner that the FAA would be glad to hold up as a case study in legal flying. 

Keep calm and fly on.

Very good feedback.  Since

Very good feedback.  Since the time of this article, the FAA has handed out 6 permits for UAS cinematic production.  So, the precident is set.  The way to file your exeption is called a "333".  It's relatively easy to do, but time consuming.  I do suggest picking up UAS insurance.  (My S900 is insured for $500,000 worth of liability for $595 per year).


GOODKID547's picture



Quadcopter not Drone!!!

Greg Allen's picture

For R/C hobbyists such as myself, what you refer to as drones (which by definition are military aircraft) are really called QUADCOPTERS... For some reason I have noticed that videographers and photographers keep throwing around the term drone. As mentioned that term is incorrect. Second it has damning connotations for a radio controlled vehicles that makes people faslely believe them to be evil. So please stop using the "slang" term and start calling them what they are, QUADCOPTERS. Lastly, we need to squash any attepted laws or regulations limiting our freedom to fly an R/C toy around. They are not doing any harm to anyone especially if people follow the safety guide lines that have already been in place for decades reagrding safe R/C aircraft flight... 

I agree with the "Drone"

APost's picture

I agree with the "Drone" moniker.  Very few, if any of or DIY UAV's have Hellfire missles instaled, much less armed.  Unfortunately, trying to correct the grammar of an official who has the ability, if not the authority, to shut down your shoot, may not be the best way to go.  And most people know them as drones.  And there are octocopters as well so....


If you look closely at many of the state laws, be they real, or proposed, I am unaware of any that shut down flight.  What I have read deal specifically with surveillance (stalking)

Why? Just wondering...

Bob Gale's picture

This article was linked in an email I received today (Aug. 17, 2016). Why? Considering new FAA rules that went into effect recently, it is completely out of date. I would suggest a revision before Videomaker points its email subscribers to read it.