Is Disney knocking drones out of the sky in order to protect "Star Wars: Episode VIII" shooting locations from prying eyes? That's what Den of Geek reported back in February, and it brings up some interesting questions. Is it legal for someone to use a drone to capture images of people or businesses without permission? And is it legal for Disney — or anyone else — to bring down a drone with force?
Drones, particularly consumer and prosumer drones, are relatively new on the scene. The laws in most countries haven't caught up to the technology. As a result, what is and isn't allowed with drones is a bit of a mess. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been drafting rules for drones for a while.
In the U.S., hobbyists only have a few rules they are supposed to follow. For example, if your drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds (0.25 kilograms), you have to register it with the FAA before flying it. But the FAA relies heavily on hobbyist organizations to set operational guidelines, which aren't actual laws. Those guidelines include not using a drone to spy on people or businesses. You're also not supposed to fly a drone over people or buildings just in case something goes wrong and your airborne toy plummets from the sky.
If you're using your drone to take pictures or video in a public place for your own personal use — assuming that you're not trying to do something shady — that's perfectly acceptable. But if you plan on selling those images or video, as is the case with most drones spying on film productions, that bumps you into a new category. It's called civil operator, and it means you're using your drone for profit. Then you have a lot more rules to follow.
As for knocking drones out of the air, that's also an open question. In the U.S., a man named William H. Merideth was arrested for shooting down a drone flying over his property. The judge in the case dismissed the charges against Merideth, who said the drone was flying low in order to spy on his teenage daughter.
And when drones are interfering with emergency response operations, such as firefighting efforts, it becomes more important to establish when, if ever, it's acceptable to shoot down or disable a drone flying in the area. Meanwhile, state governments like Georgia's have debated passing regulations for drones (in Georgie the governor recently vetoed legislation that would restrict drone use, citing the need for the FAA to create the federal rules first).
It's a big, chaotic mess right now. But eventually the laws will catch up to the technology, and we'll likely see more precise rules on where, when and how you can use your drone. In the meantime, if you're a drone pilot in the U.S., you should probably follow the guidelines listed in Know Before You Fly. It will help prevent the FAA from establishing more restrictive policies.