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Nasir and Matt end the week by diving into the topic of drones and where the law stands with their usage.

Full Podcast Transcript

NASIR: All right. Welcome to our podcast where we cover business in the news and add our legal twist. And my name is Nasir Pasha.

MATT: And I’m Matt Staub.

NASIR: I keep starting our intro with an accent but maybe I’m just hearing it.

MATT: What type of accent? I can’t tell anything.

NASIR: Business in the news and add our legal twist. I don’t know what kind of accent – some Midwestern/Californian accent.

MATT: I mean, where you’re from, and it’s similar to me, we’re both from the Midwest but we’re not southern enough to get the southern accent.

NASIR: No, we’re not.

MATT: I wasn’t close enough to Chicago to get that. You were a little bit closer to the East Coast than I was, but you don’t get any of that. So, we’re in a spot where it’s pretty – well, I shouldn’t say “normal.”

NASIR: Normal. Yeah, we’re pretty normal. I’m sure we use some words, like you probably use the word “pop” too, right? Or no?

MATT: I use all the different words. I don’t favor any of them. I just say whatever.

NASIR: I’m the same way. I think I’ve gotten used to using the word “soda” because, when I say “pop,” people will look at me weird – at least in California they did. Here, everyone looks at me weird in Texas.

MATT: There’s a thing that came out, I don’t remember if it was a year ago or two years ago but it basically looked at 25 different words – you know, like, soda, pop, Coke, something like that – and it had a map of the US and it was color-coded on who said it. It was actually pretty cool.

NASIR: Yeah, absolutely. There’s even different phrases that describe different situations.

MATT: Someone recently made a comment to me that wasn’t from the US and they were saying, “You know, if the US formed today, all these different states would be different countries because a lot of them are so different than other parts.” I mean, you and I are very good examples. California and Texas are very different than pretty much every other state in the US.

NASIR: Yeah, even New York. I mean, those are the three states that we practice in. It’s interesting how the law has developed in the three different states and how you can see even just taking one body of law like employment law and how each state approaches general concepts differently. I think, from an employment perspective, New York and California are pretty close in their interpretation and how they implement it but still very different, and Texas is on a different planet altogether for sure.

MATT: Yeah, that’s very true, very true. Well, we’re going to talk about a lawsuit just to set up the topic, but it was in Virginia so none of this. I was hoping it would apply to one of the three states we talked about.

NASIR: You’re always looking for a transition, I know.

MATT: But we’re going to talk about drones. And so, the thing I was getting to about Virginia was this guy just settled with the FAA which is the Federal Aviation Association, is that right?

NASIR: I think Administration, right?

MATT: Yes, Federal Aviation Administration, you are correct.

NASIR: Yeah.

MATT: So, he just settled with them for a whopping $1,100 on a $10,000 fine.

NASIR: Sweet.

MATT: Pretty good, 10 percent of what he owed. So, you want to know what he was fined for?

NASIR: Yeah.

MATT: The fine was that he was using his drone for commercial purposes and this was a few years ago, wasn’t it? 2011.

NASIR: Yeah, this was before drones really became a consumer product.

MATT: So, he was operating it for commercial purposes but using it also in a reckless manner while filming a commercial at the University of Virginia. So, I don’t know what the reckless manner part means.

NASIR: Yeah, he was probably hired to film or take some photos or something to that effect and didn’t know how to drive the drone, apparently.

MATT: It’s actually funny – quick side story – I went to the county building today and I don’t know if you’ve seen it since they re-did it all but there was a guy flying a drone, like, right by the county building and I was like, “Wow! That’s pretty interesting! I’m surprised they let them do this, like, right next to a government building.” But it wasn’t reckless.

NASIR: He may not be able to, I wonder.

MATT: That was my thought.

NASIR: You know, these things now, there’s drones that, literally, they fly themselves. I even have a small one – no camera or anything like that – but I don’t think it’s considered a drone without a camera but one of those quadcopter things and it’s amazingly easy to control but – because it’s a small one – it’s a little bit more flimsy than I think these bigger ones. But these bigger ones literally have GPS on them so you can literally tell it to go from one location to another and it flies completely smoothly and avoids obstacles and all that.
So, the law surrounding drones are kind of interesting because the FAA pretty much govern everything above a certain amount of hundreds of feet. I think it’s like 400 or 500 or so. I don’t remember the exact amount but they specifically allow personal use, unmanned devices like remote control like helicopters and planes and things like that. They’ve allowed those for years. I think the difference here now is that they’re regulating commercial-related activity and you’ll see this now. I think the most common thing that I’ve seen using a commercial sense is where someone’s selling a piece of property. Even the motion picture industry has been granted some limited use by the FAA to do that. And so, that’s where the regulation comes in. But it gets more complicated; every little local agency, state, city, even the parks department, for example, have their own regulations and rules that may restrict the use of drones, especially with cameras on them. I think we’ll talk about still the privacy aspects of these cameras as well.

MATT: Yeah, I think the camera part of it’s the big thing. I’ve seen an example of the drones being used for selling real estate and it’s actually pretty cool. It gives it a nice aerial view, things like that. Like I said, there’s a couple of things; there’s just regular use, consumer use, and there’s commercial use. And then, like you said too, there’s having a camera on it – that’s a whole different ball game because I think that’s what they’re mostly concerned about because, right now, even consumer use is banned in national parks, and that might be more of a safety issue – they don’t want something that’s a national park, something to get destroyed or things like that.

NASIR: They’ve pointed out that there was a security scare at Mount Rushmore because they flew a drone over the heads of those ex-presidents. And then, there was also another incident where it was reported that a drone actually caused a stampede of big-horned sheep. You know, those are some things that could be pretty disruptive. I can’t imagine going to a park and all of a sudden everyone has their drones flying around too. That would kind of ruin the effect a little bit.

MATT: For commercial purposes, if you have a done, is there any sort of license that you have to get? Like, a pilot’s license? Obviously, if you want to fly a plane, you’ve got to get a pilot’s license.

NASIR: It looks like some cities – we should look up what San Diego’s doing and some of these other cities that we’re in. But there are some cities that outright ban and then there’s some cities that have a ban but then they have a permitting process, too. I think that makes sense because the outright ban kind of punishes everyone – you know, these minority drone guys that are, you know, ruining it for everyone else – and that’s going to happen already. I think the more scary part is the aspects that, as a camera, I’m using it residential areas, and there’s already laws in place when it comes to photography of people inside their homes and so forth, and that’s generally prohibited because you do have an expectation of privacy, especially if it’s in an area where it’s hard to get to – in your backyard and things like that – but, if it’s obviously from the street into your front lawn, that’s a different issue from a public space. But, when you’re flying over someone’s house and even invading their closed air space, so to speak, that actually has some trespass implications as well.

MATT: Yeah, the privacy thing to me is the biggest one just because it’s not like someone who’s flying a plane taking aerial photographs, like, you can only get so much. I mean, people complain about Google Earth and Google Street View and that’s just people in their yard. But, like, this is a tiny device that can fly next to your house, like, into your window – not into your window but – like, next to your window and just record things. It’s getting on a lower level as opposed to just some aerial views. So, to me, the privacy thing is the biggest concern on the legal side of it. But this settlement and this FAA fine is a nice step towards something, I guess. But it still seems like it’s a pretty unsettled area in terms of how drones are going to be governed for commercial purposes.

NASIR: And there’s already been a few instances. I think there was one instance where there was a drone that flew into someone’s yard or something like that and this guy took out a shotgun and shot it down.

MATT: Reasonable.

NASIR: He was arrested. The guy that shot it down was arrested for criminal mischief or some weird charges and didn’t have a license for the gun or something to that effect. And then, there was another incidence where a drone landed in someone’s yard because it ran out of battery or there was malfunction and so forth, and the person actually kept the drone. The property owner kept the drone and basically held it hostage and it had a camera on it. I think it was probably something benign or whatever but obviously the property owner didn’t really appreciate this going on. Those are all very interesting legal implications of that. You know, in San Diego, hot air balloons constantly land on people’s property. I don’t know if you know this but, you know, you can’t really control where a hot air balloon lands to a certain extent. A lot of times, you’re just making sure it’s a safe landing and it happens all the time. It is technically trespass but it’s something that’s a little bit tolerated there.

MATT: I got to witness that as a kid. There was one, the hot air balloon that landed pretty close to my house. I don’t remember how close it was; I just remember that happening.
Just one thing to go back on what I was saying before, I said the settlement’s a step towards something but we just don’t know what yet. The FAA has been pretty outspoken about they think drones should only be for hobby purposes and not commercial. So, even despite companies like Amazon and other ones are using it for different business reasons, commercial reasons. A lot of people still think the regulation of these on the commercial side of it is far away. So, we’ll keep an eye on it.

NASIR: Yeah, that’ll change eventually. I think it’s just a matter of the law catching up a little bit and people figuring out what they feel comfortable with as far as a bunch of drones flying around. But I think Amazon and companies like them are pretty much first in line to really make that happen on a larger scale.

MATT: Yeah, Amazon’s got to be the frontrunners in this and push forward.

NASIR: Yeah. I’ve been wanting to cover drones for a while but I’ve just been waiting for the law to really change but it’s been pretty stagnant this past year. There’s been some different interesting scenarios here and there, but nothing really substantial.

MATT: I was going to ask – this is Friday – what your Superbowl pick was because that’s two days from when this episode comes out?

NASIR: Oh, that’s true.

MATT: Do you know who’s playing?

NASIR: Seattle versus Patriots, yeah. I think it depends upon who prepares the footballs.

MATT: Ah! I don’t know if either side gets to bring their own footballs.

NASIR: For the Superbowl, isn’t there technically a home team? For flipping a coin, they have to have it, right? Who calls it first?

MATT: No, I think what they do for the Superbowl now – and I could be wrong, I guess we’ll find out – I thought now, or at least recently, flip a coin and one side has the logo of…

NASIR: Oh, one team and the other has the other team?

MATT: Yeah. I don’t know if there is a home team or not. Each end zone has a different team in it.

NASIR: That’s true.

MATT: But I think for the Superbowl, all the footballs are going to have the specific Superbowl whatever logo, whatever number it is on there. So, I don’t think there’s too much opportunity for Brady and Belichick to cheat like they have been for who knows how long with these deflated footballs – not that they needed to cheat which is the funniest part.

NASIR: That’s so harsh. I still don’t understand. I don’t think most people understand – at least the laymen who don’t pay attention to this stuff – like, the deflation of footballs. How much of an impact that can have on the actually game seems negligible to me. But, oh, to answer your question, I think Seattle is going to do it again. I mean, they played a remarkable game last week and they weren’t necessarily the better team throughout the game but, at the end, they pulled it out. So, I think they’ll do the same this Sunday.

MATT: Yeah, I don’t like either team, but I really dislike the Patriots so I’m going to go with Seattle. It’s a very even Superbowl. Like, Seattle opened as the favorites and now the Patriots are the favorites, according to the betting terms. So, it should be a pretty even Superbowl so I think it could go either way, but I’m hoping Seattle wins, unfortunately.

NASIR: I’m just going to try to get a good view and just fly my drone over the stadium to get a good seat.

MATT: I don’t think that would go over well.

NASIR: No, no, it wouldn’t. I don’t even know where it is, frankly. I don’t think my drone will go that far. It goes about 50 feet away.

MATT: Yeah. For some reason, I was thinking it was in Texas but, no, it’s in Phoenix so I’m actually closer than you are.

NASIR: Very good. All right/ Well, I’ll meet you there. All right. Thanks for joining us, guys. Don’t forget to send in your topics, ideas, and your questions if you have them – your business legal questions – to

MATT: As always, keep it sound and keep it smart.

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Legally Sound | Smart Business covers the top business stories with a legal twist. Hosted by attorneys Nasir N. Pasha and Matt Staub of Pasha Law, Legally Sound | Smart Business is a podcast geared towards small business owners.

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