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FAA: Posting Drone Footage On YouTube = Commercial Use?

By Anthony Thurston on March 16th 2015

Apparently, posting your drone footage to YouTube could constitute flying them commercially, at least if the experience of Jayson Hanes is any indication of the FAA’s thoughts.

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According to a report over on Motherboard, Hanes has been notified that his aerial drone footage on YouTube constitutes commercial use, and thus, he now finds himself at the mercy of the FAA’s new commercial use regulations.

The issue comes down to the ads on YouTube. If a user uploads their videos with the monetization settings turned on, then money can be earned via YouTube – and if you want to get technical – that means you are using your footage for commercial use. The interesting twist here is that Hanes contends that he has not made any money – or even tried to – off the drone footage; he is just an amateur hobbyist who enjoys putting his videos up on the popular video sharing website.

It would seem that the FAA needs to step back and take another look at their drone regulations, as the line between what constitutes commercial and non-commercial use is still as fuzzy as ever.

Is the line simply if you are making money or not? Is it if the ‘drone’ is owned by a person or a business? What exactly constitutes commercial use, and in grey areas such as this, who gets to decide and make the final call?

As with many Government oversight issues, there seem to be more questions than answers, so if you own a DGI Phantom, or something similar, take notice, and perhaps avoid YouTube until this is cleared up.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Does simply uploading your footage to YouTube constitute commercial use? What if you upload and turn the monetization features on? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

[via Motherboard]

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jerry Jackson

    I’m honestly surprised we haven’t seen more aggressive action from the FAA regarding the licensing of drone operators given the number of drone accidents that have been posted on YouTube and the number of commercial airline pilots that have reported problems with drones flying near airports.

    Drone footage can look really cool, but the fun is being ruined by stupid drone operators who don’t use common sense and people buying cheap drones with unreliable engines and unreliable wireless controls.

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  2. Stan Rogers

    The regulations are pretty clear-cut, and have been there for as long as the FAA has existed (and is one of the reasons there is an FAA). You need to be certified for ANY commercial operation of an aircraft (manned or unmanned), and there are other regs concerning the certification of the aircraft itself and the owner if its a rental/lease arrangement. The fact that people don’t realise that they’re not allowed to make ANY money in any way using an aircraft without commercial licensing and certification (and insurance, …) doesn’t change the rules. And the headline is a little bit deceiving; posting drone videos on YouTube or elsewhere doesn’t constitute commercial use; monetizing them does.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yes, but that is the issue with this particular case. Th drone operator contends that he is not monetizing his videos, though Youtube still serves ads, so Youtube is making money off the footage – not the drone operator. So its a murky area.

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    • Stephen Jennings

      Under the FAA’s line of thinking, all activities on Youtube are considered Commercial, something the IRS would disagree with entirely. So this is something that would have to go to the courts and would likely be struck down real quick. I swear the FAA is run by some absolute morons, like most government agencies, but they’re real special.

      The FAA exist as a civilian organization because we, the people, own our own skies.. the FAA has clearly forgotten this.

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    • James Bearce

      Anthony Thurston, the article says:

      “The issue comes down to the ads on YouTube. If a user uploads their videos with the monetization settings turned on, then money can be earned via YouTube – and if you want to get technical – that means you are using your footage for commercial use”

      If he has monetization settings turned on, on his account, then he is monetizing his videos, regardless of the actual profits made. If that setting is not enabled, then it would not be considered commercial.

      As Stan mentioned, these rules are nothing new — source: I’m an FAA certificated Private Pilot.

      Stephen, the FAA has many masters: the public, private and small commercial operators, large airlines, airport and traffic control, etc. The FAA does a good job of supporting the mission of managing and protecting our airspace, but they are relatively underfunded and cannot make everyone happy in every situation.

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    • Charles de Jesus

      JAMES BEARCE youtube monitization is not a global setting. You are able to set monitization on a per video bases.

      “The interesting twist here is that Hanes contends that he has not made any money – or even tried to – off the drone footage; he is just an amateur hobbyist who enjoys putting his videos up on the popular video sharing website.”

      The argument here is that the uploader is presumed to not have activated monitization for that particular video (meaning he opted out or never turned it on in the first place) and is merely uploading the video to share it. The ads are instead being enabled by Youtube the company, not the pilot account holder. So because his video is earning money, yet it isn’t him who is earning it, should he be responsible for the commercial use issue? Why isn’t it Youtube/Google that is under scrutiny for the regulations when they are the ones who decided to profit from it.

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  3. Graham Curran

    If any of my photographic activities are classified as commercial then I want to be able to make all my photographic purchases tax-deductible

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