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Resources For Tracking State And Federal Laws Affecting Real Estate Photography With RCMA

Published: 20/02/2014
By: larry

DroneLawJournalLegal related to real estate photography and videography in the US are happening fast these days. Too fast for me to give total coverage. So rather than try to cover everything with posts on here on the PFRE blog, I'm using Twitter ( ) to cover all the important issues and events that may affect real estate property photography/videography. The last 10 tweets in the pfreblog twitter timeline are displayed on the lower right side-bar below the flickr widget. The tweets typically have a direct link to an article so you just click on the link (starts with "") and you go directly to the article. I get much of this info from PFRE blog readers and from the two guys I consider as expert resources as there are in this area:

One recent development I wanted to point out is that the rate of legislation at the state level is accelerating in recent months. Probably because it has become clear that the FAA is not likely to meet its commitments and state lawmakers are under huge pressure from everywhere to do something to stop what some consider an assault on their privacy and safety. State legislation is all over the map and hard to keep track of and some states are coming up crazy bills. One example is my state of Oregon tried to pass a law that make owning a RCMA a felony! Massive input from the Oregon RCMA industry managed to stop the bill. 

Anyone interested in commercial use of RCMA in the future should be tracking legislation in their state level and be giving regular rational input to their state legislators on this subject to counterbalance all the irrational input they are getting. Finding one place to track what's going on in state legislation seems impossible, although Brendon and Peter tweet about what's happening in various states. Most of the sites I've found that claim to summarize what different states are doing are out of date. I think the best way to track your local state is to keep track of when they are in session, what they are doing and talk to them... and don't let them get away with some of outrageous BS they are coming up with!

14 comments on “Resources For Tracking State And Federal Laws Affecting Real Estate Photography With RCMA”

  1. @Ken - As Peter Sachs explains at "Despite what you might have seen, heard or read to the contrary; despite the FAA’s claim that it has authority over RCMA; despite the FAA having sent several cease and desist letters, (obtained recently via FOIA request by Patrick Mckay), to persons who were operating RCMA for commercial purposes, there exists not a single federal statute, not a single federal regulation and no case law that in any way regulates the operation of RCMA."

    That is, no one is breaking the law because there are NO laws concerning RCMAs.

  2. @Larry - Legal issues aside, insurance is a major concern. Covering an unregulated activity gets dodgy. Care in operating a UAV of any size should always be the primary concern. For practical reasons, not making a spectacle of it might be wise.

    Great post and info. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  3. @Larry - I'm not pointing at legislation, or lack thereof on the federal level with the article link I posted, but that there is yet another incident involving a RCMA being highlighted in the press in a bad light. This is why we may start seeing more state and local regulations being put in place.

    If somebody gets hurt, the press will make a fuss about how the activity is completely unregulated and anybody with the money can buy a MR and a camera and hang up their shingle. The politicians will have to be seen doing something. They'll craft some completely stupid regulations/laws so they can say that something has been done. The regulations will also be pushed through at light speed with no input from outside.

    Insurance companies will also pull up the media stories and initially base their premiums on the risk they perceive that MR's pose. Let's face it, they are not as safe as Nerf® Frisbee®.

    People who cut hair have to take a test and get a license.

  4. Thanks for posting this! As someone who is just getting started in this field, I am VERY interested to see what the ultimate fallout will be.

    @Daniel & @Ken - I FULLY agree that even if the ultimate decision is to legally allow RCMAs, the biggest issue for us will be the liability insurance.

  5. [Not intended to be legal advice]

    Hi Folks:

    Thanks for the link to my site. (It appeared in my stats.)

    You bring up very valid concerns here. Insurance is a major concern. For non-commercial, insurance is readily available. My homeowners covers mine for example. But, there is an enormous insurance market to be had, and the insurers will be very pleased to make millions from premiums. There will be commercial insurance available once this "no commercial use" thing is put to rest.

    As for state regulations, states are limited in what they can regulate. The feds have exclusive jurisdiction over airspace, so even though there is no federal law yet, no state can create one that would not be invalided by federal pre-emption. The exception to that is that states can regulation how drones are used by public agencies with the state (police, etc.). And the silly attempts some states are making to "ban" drone photography *by anyone* without their permission, will be struck down as unconstitutional since every person has a First Amendment right to photograph anything that is in "plain view" from a public place.



  6. Its great that people are taking more interest in this. When I pointed out many of the same issues here more than a year ago some thought I was some sort of right wing nut, now your actually calling for action to do something about it. That's great, however, all the talk about privacy and regulation is misdirection. Rest assured that if shooting AP commercially from RCMA's becomes legal it will be regulated.

    I suggest that if anyone takes the time to write, call or has the opportunity to meet with a local politician ask them how is it that a Government agency could threaten to fine, confiscate equipment and imprison citizens for breaking a law that doesn't exist? Although congress gave the FAA the power to create rules to regulate the federal airspace they must follow the NPRM process and they didn't do that. That fact is not even being disputed. The conversation needs to be about restricting the over reaching authority of the FAA, not about the process of regulation.

    The reason this is important is that the FAA has now clearly demonstrated their willingness to "define" any airborne activity in such a vague manner that any debate over regulation is meaningless. The issue is, does the FAA have the right to restrict AP from RCMA's period!? And just because this is an activity that takes place above ground does not give the FAA the right to regulate it.

    For those concerned about privacy and safety, don't be, there are already plenty of federal and local laws that enable law enforcement to prevent reckless behavior that threatens the safety of others and clearly the FAA is not and should not be in the debate about defining privacy.

    So if you want to bring this issue up with a politician then simply tell them that if the FAA feels the need to "define" something they should clearly define what "Federal airspace" actually is. In unincorporated areas I am prohibited from flying my plane within 500' of any person or man made object, in incorporated areas its 1500' so with the exception of approaches or airways into and out of airports there seems to be quite a bit of airspace where there's reduced danger of conflict between RCMA's and GA aircraft.

  7. RCAPA Liability insurance for professionals IS available:

    The General Liability policy will protect the named insured for "bodily injury" or "property damage" claims by the general public. For instance, an Aerial Pak policyholder's aircraft veers suddenly out of control and injures a passerby, shatters a window, or worse. General Liability coverage will pay for an injured party's medical costs or damaged property.

    It's roughly $1500 /yr.

  8. Did they send you the $1.

    An interesting twist is that in the letter to the California Association of Realtors they threatened to fine and imprison the realtors who paid for the aerial photography.

    I'll buy that aerial image for $1. That makes me more the rebel 😉

    Thomas Jefferson said it best: "A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have." Including your civil right to earn a living from AP with RCMA. This is why this is a civil liberties issue, not a regulatory one.

  9. No. They've not even replied and I doubt they will. They know about me and what I'm trying to do. It'll be followed-up by a US mail, certified with restricted-delivery.

    I appreciate the offer to buy it, buy I'm only offering it for sale to the FAA. Anyone else can have a copy for free. 🙂

  10. >>That is, no one is breaking the law because there are NO laws concerning RCMAs.""

    This is about the most accurate statement I've seen!
    And by laws, that means current federal or state statues (criminal) and the current Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR's) as written.

  11. "And the silly attempts some states are making to “ban” drone photography *by anyone* without their permission, will be struck down as unconstitutional since every person has a First Amendment right to photograph anything that is in “plain view” from a public place."

    Not quite. You still can't photograph banks and government buildings without permission. Big no-no. Ask me how I know this...

  12. You might have been told it's a no-no, but it's perfectly legal. What state are you in? I'd love to see its statute that claims to make such photography illegal. If it's close enough to CT, I'll go there and take photos of a bank and a government building. 🙂 FWIW, I purposely take photos of the "No Photography" signs in NYC.

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