FAA Says You Can’t Post Drone Videos On YouTube

March 13th, 2015

JaysonHanesAccording to an article yesterday on the FAA has sent cease and desist orders to:

  1. Registered businesses that advertise drone-for-hire services on their websites.
  2. UAV operators that post footage on YouTube. Jayson Hanes, a Tampa-based hobbyist is the first to get a letter for posting on YouTube.

And if you do not respond to the cease and desist, letters the FAA claims they will levy fines and sanctions.

The FAA “logic” for prohibiting drone video on YouTube is that YouTube pays advertising money to all YouTube posters thus making the drone operation commercial. Yeah, sure,  Marques Brownlee, or PSY and others with their level of views make money but like you and I, Jayson Hanes has never received anything from YouTube because what YT owes him is less than a dollar.

I have to say, that I’m embarrassed by the FAA’s behavior. I expect a US Federal Agency with a yearly budget somewhere North of 16 Billion dollars to behave rationally, based on facts. Harassing people like Jayson and claiming that putting a video on YouTube makes you commercial is just plain foolish!

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36 Responses to “FAA Says You Can’t Post Drone Videos On YouTube”

  • Ridiculous.

    Although I don’t do drone photography, I’d like to in the future. The far off future apparently.

  • I followed a DJI Phantom2 Vision+ thread on this on their FaceBook page. An interesting group, by the way, for those wanting to learn more about quadcopter photography. The consensus, if indeed there was a consensus, is that Jason Hayes had flown his copter over public beaches where there was gathering of people thus probably also creating an infringement of their proposed rules for flight and his video had also been picked up by local stations. Now I don’t know if any of this is true, but it makes me wonder if this is not an attempt to exert control over where and how UAVs are flown if flown dangerously in their opinion and the commercial implications just an added leverage. It was also suggested that this was from a local FAA office and may not reflect home office practice. Again I don’t know. But there may be more to the layers of the story that we get on the surface.

    There are also suggestions that the key words for drone photography that might indicate an commercial use like “house for sale” are probably key words the FAA might use to scan the internet for commercial use of drones. We still have a way to go before the new rules will be implemented and what happens between now and then regarding the FAA enforcement is anyone’s guess.

  • There was an update to the article but I think they have already put their foot in their mouth.

    Is the government intentionally trying to promote Vimeo or other video services who don’t share money with the end user? Vimeo has some free options as well as pay to play for the publisher. If Vimeo is then making money off of my UAS video will the FAA force them to takedown my videos?

    Some letters to congressional officials are in order.

  • Larry, I totally agree with you personally that this is ‘foolish’. But it’s also one of those arguments of just how dead did you shoot the person? A little bit dead or a whole lot dead?

    Clearly many post videos on YouTube that are of a commercial in nature. A virtual tour, a video of a home for sale by XYZ Reality, and thousands of other uses and examples abound. The video is designed to generate some form of revenue.

    Then there is the other side. Posting for revenue for number of views. Anyone can receive this (I guess) and I know some YouTube(rs) are doing just that. Posting for millions of views and getting compensated for each view. I’m not exactly sure how this works but apparently everyone, pro or amateur can receive revenue for views. I have a video on YouTube that has over 60,000 views and I have not received a penny from YouTube! (send me my money YouTube)

    That being said, then the FAA is correct, every video has some potential commercial value for the view revenue. You and me posting a short video of our kids first step being thought of as commercial use? Of course not! Totally ridiculous. But the potential exists so therefore the commercial use exists. We only shot the guy a little bit dead.

    The solution I feel, is for amateurs and casual users to be offered an option to opt-out of the pay for views revenue program. Declare the video purely non-commercial use and not ever receive revenue for it’s views, even if it gets millions. Then the FAA can go pound sand and move on to something important, like safety in the skies and not YouTube monitoring!

  • While the FAA may be following the *letter* of the law, this kind of overreach is exactly the kind of action that makes the agency disrespected, irrelevant and ignored. The legal term is “holding out” and is described in AC120-12a (

    It is interesting that the letter from the FAA starts with “This office has received a complaint regarding your use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (aka drone) for commercial purposes referencing your video on the web site as evidence.” then does not identify the complainant or mention one word of what makes the video “comercial”. The letter continue proceeds to explain that model aircraft are subject to enforcement of 41CFR91.13 “Reckless and Careless” flights., but says nothing about commercial use.

    I have been expecting one of these “cease and desist” letters to blow up in their face, and this may be the one. There is nothing, not a link, not a comment in the video, nothing that qualifies as “holding out” by the accused. He was flying as a hobby and posted his video on YouTube. Speculation is that because YouTube puts ads on the page and potentially profits from the ads makes the flight a “commercial flight”. By this logic, every video from a drone is a “commercial flight”.

  • I think the FAA is trying to control the UAV world by harassment. They have fooled around for years and not implemented measures that actually regulate UAVs and they are depending on the fact that not may people have the time and money to standup and challenge this like Raphael Pirker did. And even if someone does challenge this by the time the case is litigated, appealed and settled they will gain another year.

    @Stephen – yes, I’ve spent most of my career in the Aviation industry and they’ve always been a respected, competent agency and they still are in the area of manned aircraft. But this kind of behavior with small UAVs they loose respect and people tend to ignore them. It’s not a very effective way to approach UAV regulation.

  • I haven’t been following drone news at all but…

    1) Didn’t the FAA just rule that drones can be flown under 500′? If so this YouTube thing seems punitive.
    2) Not everyone on YouTube, professional or otherwise, monetizes their channels. Am I missing something here or are they arguing that everyone who has a YT channel has the *potential* to earn commercially or from YT directly?
    3) I can’t imagine YouTube/Google is going to allow this. It could be argued that Vimeo Pro accounts are also generating revenue…


  • It’s our obligation to ignore unjust laws.

  • Larry, I am a CFI, owned a Cessna Cardinal for 15 years (it owned me), and have been a pilot since 1984 with a little less than 2,000 hours of logged flight.
    I am also very active with the personal drone community (I own three drones myself) and making plans to operate a drone flight school when the rules become effective.
    It’s precisely because of my long history with the FAA that makes their handling of personal drone rules enforcement all that more galling.

  • Malia-
    1) The FAA issued an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) to promulgate rules to allow commercial use of small drones. They are in the public comment period now and final rules are expected in 18-24 months. Note, though, the proposed rules are only for commercial use. Hobby use is not subject to the new rules.
    2) The “potential to earn” is the threshold of commercial flight according to the FAA.
    3) Why would Google give a sh**? Every penny of ad revenue generated from every personal drone video ever posted on Youtube probably total one or two seconds of overall YouTube profits. This is smaller than couch lint. It’s not even a flake of dandruff. Besides that, the FAA is on solid legal grounds.

  • 3) The FAA is on solid legal ground because they’re setting the law. Or am I missing something?

    If the government is able to determine what is and is not allowed to be uploaded to the internet I fear we’re heading into dangerous territory. Or maybe I’m completely missing something here…

  • Bottom line, until this whole mess is resolved with standards and regulations, I can not risk the time or investment in this. Who really knows where this is going?

    Wishful thinking, disregard for the “rules”, etc. just seems to be asking for trouble.

  • After a search, I cannot find any letters from the FAA regarding this issue and a copy was not included here. I would like to see the letter unedited because individual interpretation can be a lot different than what is being said. Two people can read the same letter and walk away with two completely views.

    Malia’s statement “If the government is able to determine what is and is not allowed to be uploaded to the internet I fear we’re heading into dangerous territory. Or maybe I’m completely missing something here…” is something to think about, but from what I have heard from my contacts in the FAA community, it is not the posting to the web that is the problem, it is the revelation of the fact that they are using the drones for commercial gain. Just like the punks that post their crimes on the net, it is not the posting, it is the revelation…

    Cat M’s statement “It’s our obligation to ignore unjust laws.” sounds just like the mentality of Hillary Clinton’s view on following the governments email rules and deciding for herself what she will and will not follow……

  • I don’t know if this will move the conversation along the right or correct path on this issue. I have a feeling that as long as the new rules have yet to be nailed down and made official, there will be all sorts of interpretations of grey areas that will affect some people and not most. But this is the link that was posted on the DJI Phantom2 Vision+’s FaceBook group:

  • It’s nothing like Clinton. It’s like the Founding Fathers. We’d still be British if they were such cowards to be intimidated by a form letter. It’s a form letter! Wipe your butt with it and conduct business as usual.

  • Thanks for posting the site with the letter Peter. As I thought, there is nothing about the posting to YouTube that is in question or threat, rather as the letter clearly states that from the evidence of the YouTube posting, they went to the persons website and found that indeed, they were using it for commercial gain.

    So all this baloney about you can not post drone videos to YouTube is false. What they are doing, is following up on those that do post to YouTube, to see if they are in commercial use of drones. Basically, following the bread crumbs to see if they lead somewhere.

  • Jerry – what website?

  • Peter above gave a website to see the letter. If you scroll down some, you will see a pdf of the full letter

  • It sounds like the FAA does not want to make any differentiation between broadcasting outlets. If publishing content filmed with RCMA’s is ok when published on YouTube in a manner to earn money, why not on CNN, ABC, HGTV or Food Network? I know and watch a couple of YouTube channels where the producer is earning a living (wife, kid and house payments too). I’m sure there are plenty of examples.

  • I think the FAA should do whatever it feels is necessary, until all the “Drone” / “UAV” issues can be thoroughly resolved. If they do not enforce whatever safety and privacy measures they can possibly think of. with an overabundance of caution, the entire commercial drone industry for photographers is at risk. All we need as photographers is a few “bad apples” using drones in a manner that is unsafe or infringes on public privacy … have stories go national or viral… and we are done. At both a federal and local level, banning all use of small business drones is a very real possibility. After a while, as the public gets use to the idea of the small business drone, then, if a few incidents occur, it will not be as big a deal. Think of the car. If no one ever had seen a car…. and the first year I was commercially available, 10.8 million accidents occurred, the car would be banned. In 2009 in the US there were over 10 million vehicle accidents… but we did not ban cars… Lets say in 2016 we have real estate and photography drones go fully into legal use. If we have stories every day in the news, that reflect badly on the drone photography industry…. they will get banned at a local level if not a federal one.

  • Methinks that you are being overly paranoid and buying into the fear and ignorance surrounding small UAVs.

    I’ve posted this before, but it bears repeating.

    There is absolutely no factual evidence to support the fear and ignorance around small personal drones. There have been hundreds of thousands of hours of flight time using these small aircraft, yet there is not one verifiable report of a drone crash that resulted in a serious injury to someone not connected to the flight. Not one. (A Band-Aid is not a serious injury). It is a safety record that all other segments of aviation would be jealous to have. (According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, 100,000 hours in the General Aviation fleet would include at least one fatality.) Where’s the blood and mayhem to justify the perception that small personal drones are a threat to public safety?

    I am not saying that a serious accident can’t or won’t happen. It probably will in the future, but the fear of personal drones is hugely overstated.

    The FAA executive in charge of integrating unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS) says that if and when a small UAS (sUAS) and a manned aircraft collide, the manned aircraft isn’t likely to suffer serious damage. Jim Williams was speaking to a nervous audience of helicopter operators at HAI Heli-Expo in Orlando last week (March 2015) and said that while there’s never been a reported contact between an sUAS and a civilian aircraft, the military has some experience in that regard. In all cases the aircraft was virtually unscathed while the UAS was “smashed to pieces.”

  • “…. they will get banned at a local level if not a federal one”

    the NTSB and FAA has defined them as aircraft, so they are in FAA jurisdiction after takeoff. Local regulation can only prohibit where you can take off or land, but once you are airborne, they can’t touch you, legally.

  • @Stephen Mann, there have indeed been incidents that have resulted in injuries to people not involved in the flight beyond the “band-aid” level. There have also been many close calls that could have caused injuries. Regardless of the seriousness of an injury, if the activity puts the uninvolved public at risk, there is going to be problems. I’m not going to post the links again, but the stories are not hard to find.

    The size of RCMA that would be used for RE probably wouldn’t pose a threat to larger aircraft, but one could scare the pants off of a helicopter pilot if it showed up right in front of their windscreen when they weren’t expecting it. Ever had a bird fly in front of you when driving or a pinecone drop out of a tree? Jerk the wheel in panic and you could end up in a serious accident. The idiots that wouldn’t think twice about flying their multi-rotor in the midst of a fire or police action end up painting all of us with the same brush. Helicopter blades aren’t made for whacking into solid objects. A Phantom would be reduced to bits and the helicopter could likely be safely landed in the event of a collision, but if there is even the slightest ding in the blades of the helicopter, it would have to be replaced at a very high cost. Duct tape isn’t going to fix it.

    Many cities are enacting regulations regarding RCMA’s now and in the past. While they may not have legal jurisdiction over a flight in progress as you suggest, it would be your money to pay for the attorney to get any ordinance overturned and a citation vacated. For RE photography using small craft, one would be taking off and landing nearby anyway. If one isn’t, there might be a violation based on line-of-sight restrictions if the requirement stays in the proposed legislation.

    @Brad, there used to be a law that somebody had to walk in front of an automobile waving a red flag to warn people. I can’t remember if it was a local, state or national ordinance. With most accidents being between 2 or more cars, it’s the risk we tacitly agree to when we travel by automobile. If we are sitting in the bleachers watching a rodeo, we don’t expect a thing with whirring blades to drop out of the sky on top of us.

    Getting good regulations in place will help moderate the bad apples to some extent. A professional model RCMA is a serious investment and commercial operators that could lose their license to operate one commercially will act safer than if the market is a free-for-all. I would not want to offer aerial services if I had to compete with other companies that are willing to make ill-advised, high-risk flights in the absence of any safety regulations or consequences when they took chances and something bad happens.

    Some barrier to entry, either in having to obtain a certification or make a certain amount of investment, makes for a business that has a better chance of succeeding. We all see what cell phone cameras do to the PFRE market. We have to work much harder to produce substantially better images to earn enough money to justify the investment in gear and proficiency. This is not a totally bad thing as it motivates us to keep improving our work, but digital imaging has definitely lowered the barrier of entry. If we have to compete with a kid living at home with no overhead that only charges a few dollars to provide aerial photos of a property with a hobby level, there isn’t a good business justification to purchase professional level equipment. There will be 2 levels of service, the kid that works for beer money and the high end provider that will do RE, but primarily services the TV/Film/Corporate market. If a license/permit/certification, business license (if required locally) and commercial insurance is needed to operate a RCMA aerial photo business, there is a reasonable amount of barrier to entry and some down side if one operates irresponsibly.

  • “there have indeed been incidents that have resulted in injuries to people not involved in the flight beyond the “band-aid” level.”

    Cite one, please. Just one. Please.

    I have been looking for more than a year for a cite of an accident, yet there is not one verifiable report of a drone crash that resulted in a serious injury to someone not connected to the flight. I have Google Alerts scouring the web for news reports and I have asked insurance actuaries and aviation lawyers, and they all come up blank.

    So, really, if you can find one that all of my searches and contacts have missed, I do want to know the details. I am more than willing to change my statement if someone can just show me one drone crash that resulted in a serious injury to someone not connected to the flight. Just one is all I ask.

  • If you fly a drone over anything but property you own, or have permission to fly over, then your drone should have to be registered and insured.

    From what I know, and correct me if I am wrong, this, this is how the law applies to construction vehicles, off-road recreational vehicles, etc. I can’t understand why, in the case of drones, the law would be applied any differently.

  • Because you don’t own the airspace over your property.

    The United States relies on the Air Commerce Act of 1926, 44 Stat. 568, 49 U.S.C. § 171 et seq., as amended by the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, 52 Stat. 973, 49 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. Under those statutes, the United States has “complete and exclusive national sovereignty in the air space” over this country. 49 U.S.C. § 176(a).

    In the 1946 case U.S. vs. Causby, the Supreme Court says “The landowner owns at least as much of the space above the ground as the can occupy or use in connection with the land”.

  • Again, correct me if I am wrong, but the public “airspace” that law is referring to, is from 500′ and above. And a drone according to the FAA, can only fly below 500′ as to avoid interfering with aircraft in that “public” airspace. I understand you do, as a landowner, have dominion over the low level airspace over your property (as well as a right to privacy). That’s why the paparazzi can’t hover a drone over a celebrity’s backyard.

    But my point was more in regards to operating the drone “vehicle” in public, over public spaces. To operate a motocross bike on your own private property, no registration or insurance is required, but to operate on public streets it must be registered, insured, and meet minimum safety requirements. I believe the same applies to construction equipment, golf carts, etc. Still not sure why a drone would be treated any differently?

    My father is a a pilot. The plane he flies in “public” airspace still has to be registered and insured simply for the reason that he IS flying in “public” airspace.

    I am all for drone use. I think they are great. I am just not sure what the confusion is, and why they are not treated like every other vehicle operated in public spaces (airspace, roads)

    The other thing I find odd, is that some drone operators claim they don’t charge for the flight, but only charge for the prints of photos taken during the flight. And as such, claim they are flying the drone “non-commercially”. I’m not a lawyer, but I think anyone can see how obviously mistaken that notion is. I sure hope their lawyer did not give them that advice!

  • The 1926 commerce act said 500 ft but a later SCOTUS decision added the “as much as you can reasonably use” phrase, partially because tall buildings were getting more common. It’s also about this time that the CAB (predecessor to the FAA) implemented the rules to protect arrival and departure corridors from encroachment.

    The Paparazzi can’t hover over a celebrity’s back yard because the operator would be violating already existing privacy statutes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a drone or a camera on a stick. Passing new laws to overlay existing statutes is a waste of time and possibly opens the door to a court challenge. (“You can’t do this!” is different from “You can’t do this using A, B, and C!”. It provides a defense argument that “my client used method D, and method D isn’t listed on the ordinance.) At least I am pretty sure that it’s illegal in most places to invade someone’s privacy in the first place. If it’s illegal for me to stand outside the fence of someone’s home to take photos on a long pole, then it’s also illegal to do it with a drone. Or a kite. Or a balloon. Or with a camera on a pidgeon. If the ordinance specifically says *how* I can’t take photos, then it opens up a whole new opportunity to take photos with unspecified methods.

    Insurance is not in the FAA’s scope. They cannot mandate insurance, but the state can mandate liability insurance. In almost all cases of aircraft insurance it’s the bank that insists on hull insurance.

    Airspace is interstate commerce, everything on the ground is the domain of the state. That is why the domains are regulated differently. The state can require insurance for terrestrial vehicles.

    Your last statement is 100% correct. The ruse of “the flight is free, I just charge for the prints” has been around for as long as there have been airplanes and cameras, and the FAA is familiar with every possible scheme. It’s still a commercial flight.

  • My friend who has a phantom 2 vision + says if you stay below 150′ and tie a tether of some sort to the skid it would be legal for commercial purposes. He has been flying for such purposes for awhile now. Don’t really know if he’s correct but it might be worth looking into. Strong fishing line or something maybe?

  • @Scott – Yes I agree, I don’t see why more people aren’t using tethers to solve the UAV legal issues. have been working on a commercial version of this idea for a year or more but still doesn’t seem to have a product on the market.

  • What a good idea if you are either going just straight up or live in the plains. But too many subjects have trees, power lines and other obstacles that would surely get caught up in the tether. I would imagine that that might limit the application. But for a clear field, its certainly an excellent idea.

  • There’s no specific rule to cite, but Jim Williams, head of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, said that even tethered drones are still considered “aircraft” by the FAA and subject to FAA regulation.


    The way this guy handled himself publicly after the incident was also appalling

  • I have been following this incident, but that is all it is- an incident. It does not raise to the level of “serious accident” as defined by the FAA and NTSB.

    CFR 49 § 830.2 defines a serious injury:
    “Serious injury means any injury which: (1) Requires hospitalization for more than 48 hours, commencing within 7 days from the date of the injury was received; (2) results in a fracture of any bone (except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or nose); (3) causes severe hemorrhages, nerve, muscle, or tendon damage; (4) involves any internal organ; or (5) involves second- or third-degree burns, or any burns affecting more than 5 percent of the body surface.”

    Everything else is an incident.

    You cannot regulate to perfection and some amount of risk must be acceptable. If this is the worst drone-related injury accident you can find in a hyper-sensitive news environment over drones, then you can see why the general fear and ignorance of personal drones is way out of proportion to the risk. Considering that worldwide there are at least a million hours of flight experience using these small aircraft, hundreds of thousands of hours in the US alone, and this particular incident is the only one approaching, but not reaching the definition of serious injury to someone not involved in the flight that can be discovered?

  • March 19–The Federal Aviation Administration today issued an experimental airworthiness certificate to an Amazon Logistics, Inc.

  • This is absurd! But it does fall into the guidelines of making money commercially from flying drones.

    Youtubers make tons of money from ads and whatever they place in their video is fair game and considered a tool for the income.

    I know a few people who have been contacted by the FAA and they had to take their videos down, but did not have to pay any fines. With the new drone laws out, I believe this will be a huge issue for people flying commercially without a license.

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