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Journalist Sues Police For Barring Drone Videography Of Crash Scene

Any desperate local news reporter who’s ever been denied access to a crime or accident scene can relate to the motivation behind the attempted work-around one Connecticut TV photographer, Pedro Rivera, used to circumvent the road block while at the scene of a fatal crash: an overhead drone to grab some video.

Yes, drones. As in unmanned flying crafts more likely to evoke images of the Middle East than the East Coast. But you can buy small drones capable of capturing a video online for about $1,000, which is cheaper than a pro DSLR or even many lenses. That’s much more affordable than a helicopter to hover over news scenes, which is why the idea is actually kind of genius. Except, maybe not…

dronejournalism_featuredimgSo why haven’t more other enterprising journalists thought of this yet? Probably because the FAA says it’s not legal. They say commerical use of the video from these drones is not allowed, but apparently are reviewing things, per the Hartford Courant story on Rivera’s case. (They also note that Rivera wasn’t actually on the job at the scene, and the station he works for didn’t air the video, so it may not even have been a commercial use.)

Rivera, according to the Courant, has filed a federal lawsuit against the local police for blocking his drone usage at the accident scene earlier this month. He claims they violated his civil rights when they stopped him. (H/T Romenesko)

Poynter previously has rounded up a lot of the debate about journalism and drones and the legality question after another news organization’s less newsy use of drone video for a story was called out as being in the gray area of the law. (PBS Newshour has more background on the Spokesman-Review used drone video for a slightly less newsy story of the polar bear plunge.)

This lawsuit, at least, could help set some case law, or at least force a full legal (and hopefully ethical) debate on whether drones and journalism really could be a match made in the heavens. We’ll be watching.

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