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NPPA Files Comments As Part of News Media Coalition Regarding FAA Drone Registration

November 7th, 2015 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , ,

In response to a Request for Information from the FAA, the NPPA, as part of a News Media Coalition (NMC) filed Comments on November 6, 2015, regarding Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) registration,

According to Charles D. Tobin of Holland & Knight, LLP on behalf of the 17 news organizations and associations, “the News Media Coalition has stressed, and the government has acknowledged, that the First Amendment rights of the public in receiving news and information in the public interest, and the media in gathering that news and information, must be preserved in the regulation of any new technology, including UAS.”

With that overriding principle in mind the NMC went on to “strongly urge the FAA to require registration at the point-of-sale with registration information submitted by the seller, rather than the end-users,” to avoid an overly burdensome and costly process.

The coalition also advised that the  “FAA should only require the submission of the limited contact information from users necessary to ensure accountability” and “to avoid unnecessary administrative burdens and bureaucratic delays, registration should be web-based [with] information about the registration should be available in an easy-to-use and searchable online database that provides access consistent with that provided by the FAA for other aircraft registration.”

Additionally, “operation of UAS should be permitted upon submission of registration information, rather than awaiting affirmative approval or imposing a waiting period before a UAS may be legally operated. Any delay or additional affirmative steps could restrict an otherwise qualified UAS operator from exercising her First Amendment rights” and that “there should not be any fees—for users or sellers—to file UAS registrations with the FAA.

The group went on express its concern about registration requirements that operators file detailed flight plans with the FAA because it “would not meaningfully contribute to safety “make it virtually impossible to use UAS for breaking news stories.”

Should the FAA adopt special rules for micro UAS (under 2.2 lbs.) the group believes they should be exempt from registration requirements because “collection of such information would be overly burdensome to users and to the FAA and, given micro UAS operational limitations and safety benefits.”

Finally, in order to encourage accountability and responsible use of UAS, the NMC urged the FAA to expedite a clear commonsense final small UAS rule and utilize stakeholders (such as those in the coalition) to “help better educate UAS operators, including hobbyists, regarding current regulations and best practices for safe UAS operation.”

Members of the News Media Coalition include: Advance Publications, Inc., A.H. Belo Corp., American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., The Associated Press, Capitol Broadcasting Co., Cox Media Group, LLC, Fusion Media Network, LLC, Gannett Co., Inc., Getty Images (US), Inc., National Press Photographers Association, NBCUniversal Media, LLC, The New York Times Company, Reuters, The E.W. Scripps Company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., TEGNA, Inc., and WP Company LLC.

Posted in drone, Drones, FAA, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Getty Images, National Press Photographers Association, New York TImes, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, small unmanned aerial systems, sUAS, UAS, Washington Post | No Comments »

NPPA, Other Media Groups Submit Comments to FAA in Support of Exemptions for Use of sUAS

July 16th, 2014 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today the NPPA filed comments with the FAA in support of petitions from a number of aerial photo and video production companies seeking exemptions to commercially operate small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS – 55lbs or less) for motion picture and television industry use. The NPPA also joined in the analysis submitted as part of the News Media Coalition’s Comments in Support of Video-Production Companies’ Petitions to the FAA for Section 333 Exemption. That Media Coalition includes: Advance Publications, Inc.; A.H. Belo Corp.; The Associated Press; Gannett Co., Inc.; Getty Images (US), Inc.; Gray Television, Inc.; NBCUniversal, Inc.; The New York Times Company; Scripps Media, Inc.; Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.; and WP Company LLC (d/b/a The Washington Post), represented by Charles D. Tobin and Christie N. Waltz of the Washington, DC law firm Holland & Knight, LLP. The additional comments by NPPA were submitted to reflect the specific concerns of our members and were drafted by NPPA General Counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher and Advocacy Chair Alicia Wagner Calzada, who is also an  attorney with Haynes and Boone, LLP.

As noted, the NPPA has an acute interest in helping the FAA properly expedite the integration of sUAS into the National Airspace System (“NAS”).  We also support exemptions by the FAA that would permit journalists, and in particular visual journalists, to use sUAS for newsgathering purposes. The NPPA reviewed the voluntary and self-imposed “limitations and conditions” proposed in the production companies’ petitions. And while they may be acceptable to those groups, we urged the FAA to decline to adopt or extend them as prerequisites for future exemptions or as future standards in its rulemaking. The NPPA acknowledged that some of those limitations and conditions might be acceptable, but expressed our concerns about others that we deemed to be impractical and which would impose an undue burden on sUAS use for newsgathering.

The NPPA continues to assert that sUAS use for newsgathering is not a “commercial use” and we expect to see tangible benefits if the current exemption requests are granted. Specifically, we would hope that NPPA will also be allowed to “facilitate” exemption petitions on behalf our membership in a similar manner to what has been achieved by the Motion Picture Association of America.

The NPPA also referenced in its comments and filed a copy of our paper written in support of sUAS for use in newsgathering, which also included results from a study we conducted on that subject.

 

Posted in drone, Drones, FAA, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, rulemaking, small unmanned aerial systems, sUAS | No Comments »

NPPA Joins Brief Supporting Journalists’ Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems

May 7th, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The NPPA and a coalition of media organizations have joined to file a legal brief in a case that may help shape the future of the use of unmanned aerial systems (“UAS”) by journalists nationwide.  The brief, filed by the law firm Holland & Knight on behalf of the NPPA and 13 other media organizations, argues in favor of a UAS pilot fined by the FAA for flying a model plane fitted with a camera around the University of Virginia in 2011.

A judge overturned the fine against Raphael “Trappy” Parker in March, but the FAA appealed that decision. The National Transportation Safety Board will review the holding in the coming weeks.  The approaching NTSB review will focus, in part, on whether the FAA’s current ban on the unlicensed commercial use of small UAS exceeds its administrative authority.

The amicus brief argues that the FAA’s current policy is overly broad, and improperly fails to draw a distinction between commercial uses and “the use of UAS technology for the First Amendment-protected purpose of gathering and disseminating news and information.”  The brief contends that lagging administrative proceedings to update the rules and minimal efforts to grant licenses to private parties have combined with current policies to essentially ban civilian use of UAS.

NPPA General Cousel Mickey Osterreicher said the blanket ban improperly burdens journalists.

“With the advent of smaller and more advanced aerial platforms which are simple to operate and inexpensive to purchase, it is logical that innovative visual journalists [would] seek to report the news by using these devices to capture images with which to better inform the public,” Osterreicher said.  Osterreicher pointed to aerial photographs of the aftermath of the recent building explosion in Harlem as an important example of this type of publicly beneficial use.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed the idea that the First Amendment extends some protection to newsgathering activities.  By incorrectly deeming media organization’s use of UAS as a commercial activity, rather than a newsgathering application, current policies undermine significant constitutional concerns.  “Contrary to the FAA’s complete shutdown of an entirely new means to gather the news, the remainder of the federal government . . . has recognized that, in the eyes of the law, journalism is not like other business,” the brief asserts.

The particular utility of UAS for newsgathering purposes reinforces the First Amendment interests at stake.  A recent NPPA survey canvased approximately 50 news organizations and media associations to determine how small UAS could help journalists do their jobs.  The survey revealed UAS could aid in the reporting of newsworthy events such as natural disasters, accidents, and adverse weather conditions, where safety concerns or other restrictions might otherwise limit coverage.

Even strong proponents of UAS concede that increased use might present some dangers, especially in highly populated areas.  However, the brief argued, “the News Media Amici and the government can address legitimate safety concerns while protecting First Amendment rights and providing the public with enhanced access to important information.”  The government’s delay in promulgating a formal rulemaking process to consider the balancing of these interests is a central basis for the challenge to current policy.

The brief also argued that privacy concerns arising from media organizations’ use of UAS could be addressed by existing laws, and that forward looking policy determinations regarding privacy should be “based on a discussion among policy makers, privacy advocates, and industry.”

The other problem with the FAA’s current policy is that it was arguably adopted without proper administrative procedures.  When an agency seeks to establish enforceable rules or regulations, as it did here, it must meet certain legal requirements.   The lack of proper procedure is compounded by an absence of clarity in the policy itself, leading to outcomes that depart from legal norms, such as the regulation of model airplanes under general federal aviation regulations.

The current state of the law on UAS use for newsgathering purposes demands swift action from the FAA, Osterreicher concluded:

“It is incumbent that the FAA chart a pragmatic and expedited course in its administrative rulemaking. There is neither room nor time for complacency or hubris in addressing this matter, lest, flying too low or too high it end up failing like Icarus in an attempt to rule the sky.”

Osterreicher will present the NPPA study and paper on UAS at a meeting of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Orlando next week.  The FAA’s “roadmap” for integrating civilian UAS usage is available here.

Posted in Access, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism | 2 Comments »