A Texas state law that currently restricts how photojournalists are able to use drones within their reporting is being challenged by a group of photojournalists.
Passed in 2013, the law blocking photojournalists from using drones implements both jail time and fines, and prohibits the usage of unmanned aircraft for spying on either private property or other individuals no matter where the drone is located. The drone law also prohibits the usage of drones at less than 400 feet above ground level above specific locations, including sports stadiums, prisons/jails, oil refineries, electrical power plants or ports, regardless of whether or not the drones are taking photographs.
The Federal Aviation Agency currently bans drones from flying above 400 feet in all cases.
Despite the laws, there are a few exemptions for the law, and drones can be flown over 400 feet if they’re being used to inspect gas or oil pipelines, for scholarly research, or for fire suppression.
Those who violate the law can face penalties including 180 days in jail per image taken, as well as up to $2,000 in fines.
The photojournalist group, National Press Photographers Association, has joined with the Texas Press Association to file a lawsuit to attempt to have the law overturned. The lawsuit alleges that the law violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by placing “unconstitutional restrictions on news-gathering and free speech.”
Furthermore, the suit argues that creating a no-fly zone over locations such as prisons and sports stadiums, “inevitably singles our journalists for disfavored treatment.”
The suit also alleges that the drone laws prevents news photography above public interest areas while, at the same time, allowing exceptions for photography for the purposes of commercial and government reasons. The groups argue in their lawsuit that this type of restriction violates the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The suit contends that the law also violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states that no state is permitted to create laws that are designed to deprive an individual of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. According to the groups, since the term “surveillance” in the law isn’t specifically defined, they argue that the law is “unconstitutionally vague due in large part to the fact that it doesn’t enable the general public to understand when conduct is prohibited, nor does it enable members of law enforcement to have enough information to make an arrest.”
One freelance photographer has gone on record of stating that the law has caused major problems for him while trying to complete assignments. This photographer in particular was offered an assignment from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to shoot photos during the construction of Arlington’s Globe Life Field, and upon requesting permission from the Texas Rangers to shoot the photos, he was denied. The law permits photographers to take photos of private property if they have permission from the landowner, but as he was refused permission he lost the assignment and potentially thousands of dollars in pay due to the drone law.
Thank you for visiting the Jarvis, Garcia, & Erskine blog. We write to inform Austin locals about law changes, events and news.