FAA says journalists can’t use drones but can buy drone-created photos/video from hobbyists

In what strikes me as a very strange distinction, the FAA has said this week that journalists and media organizations may not use drones for their newsgathering operations without permission, though they may purchase photos and video from hobbyists that they do not employ.

American journalists and media organizations have been pushing the FAA to rule whether or not they can legally use drones for newsgathering for some time now. In March of last year, a judge ruled that commercial drone use is legal in the US, though the FAA appealed the ruling.

A person who wishes to operate a UAS to take pictures or videos or gather other information that would be sold to media outlets would need an FAA authorization for the operation”FAA, Media Use of UAS, May 5, 2015

Now, in a memorandum issued May 5, 2015 (embedded above), the FAA says using a drone specifically for newsgathering, whether it’s a news organization or a freelancer intending to sell the work to a publication, requires FAA permission as does any other “non-hobby” usage of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones). However, if a hobbyist happens to take pictures or video and a media organization wants to license that work for news purposes, the FAA says that is okay because the flight is considered authorized.

Hopefully, there will be legal challenges to this memorandum. Both a Forbes contributor and Vice Motherboard have more coverage of this memorandum, raising concerns about the restrictions this places on the press. The memo makes me think of last year’s controversy over proposed US National Forest regulations regarding photography on public lands.

On this subject, do yourself a favor and check out Tomas van Houtryve‘s Blue Sky Days project, if for some strange reason you haven’t seen it yet. It’s been widely published and awarded, and for good reason. The project is the most creative and insightful investigation of American drone warfare that I’ve seen. I saw him present the work to a small crowd a couple weeks ago at the Magenta Foundation‘s Flash Forward Festival in Boston. If he’s presenting in your area, his presentations are well worth checking out.

1.8 Gigapixel Cameras Fly on US Drones

Gizmodo has written about the “World’s Highest Resolution Camera”, with 1.8 gigapixels, which is being developed for the US government. They shared this clip from the PBS show NOVA which recently broadcast an episode called “Rise of the Drones”.

This is the next generation of surveillance. … It is important for the public to know that some of these capabilities exist. – BAE Systems Engineer Yiannis Antioniades, who designed the sensor

I know some folks working on drone-related journalism and drone-related photography. This should give you some more ideas about what might be possible. And I can’t help but think of what extreme ‘Google Street View’ style projects could be possible from a camera also known as “Wide-Area Persistant Stare’. Maybe some day we’ll see such a thing, for now it remains a classified US Government program.

Scott also recommends having a look at the Dronestagram project, which compiles Google Maps aerial landscapes of the sites of drone strikes. You can follow them on Instagram or on Tumblr.

Trevor Paglen Photographs the Limit of Vision at Black Sites

At that extreme distance [44miles] vision itself collapses. Literally you can look as hard and with the most powerful equipment you can and there is nothing to see. Because at those distances there is so much heat and so much haze and so much turbulence in the atmosphere that the photons that make up light are literally coming apart from each other. Color is literally coming apart.

Now it turns out that it is harder to take a picture of something on the ground that is 30 or 40 miles away than it is to take a picture of Jupiter, for example, that is hundreds of millions of miles away.

You come up against the physical limit of vision. That is really what you see in the photograph, is you see vision falling apart. Now at the same time it is a photograph of this weapons range, but it is also a photograph of the impossibility of trying to see this weapons range in a certain way.

We have previously written about Trevor Paglen’s groundbreaking photography projects about military patches, spy satellites, CIA Black Sites and Limit-Telephotography but I just came across this video interview with him explaining the physical limits of light and photography that his work about “black sites” is confronting. An interesting thought.

(via ASX.TV: Trevor Paglen – “Black Sites” (2012))