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What We Learned This Week: Drone Law, Cow Poo Law

By David Schonauer   Friday May 15, 2015

Continuing our weekly review of photo news:

This week we spotlighted a number of interesting projects, including Sasha Maslov’s portrait series  of World War II veterans, which debuted on the 70th anniversary of the war’s end in Europe. Maslov spent five years working on the project, photographing around the world and collecting stories about lives caught up in the maelstrom. We also featured photographer Ji Yeo’s series “It Will Hurt a Little,” which looks into the cosmetic surgery clinics that have transformed the economy and skyline of Seoul, South Korea.

In terms of photographic trends, we learned  that a number of the photographers who received Guggenheim Foundation grants this year focus their work on landscape photography. Among them: Kim Stringfellow, professor of photography at San Diego State University, who says her project “is concerned with physical, geological and cultural landscape of the Mojave Desert."

There was also some legal news that caught our eye this week.

Probably the most outrageous news we heard concerned a new law in Wyoming that would make it a crime to gather data about the condition of the environment across most of the state if you plan to share that data with the state or federal government. Such data includes photographs. The law states that any individual collecting data on open land without written or verbal permission to be collecting data is punishable by $1,000 fine, up to one year jail time, or both. Repeat offenders would face a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to five years.

Why, you may ask, would such a law be passed? Pure politics, says Slate. There is e.coli in Wyoming's streams, coming from cows that spend too much time near streams. Ranchers in Wyoming, who have clout, don't want new rules about where they can graze their herds on public lands.

So, no photos in Wyoming because of cow poop.

           From Sasha Maslov's "Veterans" project

                            A Kim Stringfellow landscape


                          From Ji Yeo's "It Will Hurt a Little"

Another piece of weird legal news came from a post  at  Forbes that parsed a recently released memo from the Federal Aviation Administration concerning drones.

The memo, notes Forbes contributor Joe Goglia, essentially explains why amateurs, or “citizen journalists,” could use drones to photograph news events and then legally sell those images to the news media, whereas professional news photographers could not.

The central point of the analysis is based on the distinction the FAA has created between hobby and non-hobby use of drones. Non-hobbyists must seek FAA permission to use drones for commercial purposes.

However, notes the memo, “If the individual’s [sic] takes the pictures or videos or gathers other information as part of a hobby or recreational activity, then a later decision to sell some or all of those pictures, videos or other information” would not change the character of the operation and “no FAA authorization for that operation would be required.”

“The problem for professional photographers and media organizations that want to use drones is that even if they obtain FAA approval via a so-called 333 exemption, the restrictions placed on UAS operations by the terms of the exemption would make drone use impossible in all but the most remote areas,” writes Forbes contributor John Goglia.

The end result of the FAA’s legal memo, Goglia says, “is that we now have a situation in the United States where citizen journalists may be the only ones able to gather drone images of disaster scenes or other scenes perhaps too difficult to reach by land and too dangerous for manned aircraft.”

The bottom line is that photographers using drone have to be savvy about the law. A good place brush up on it is this article  at lynda.com written by Carolyn E. Wright of the Photo Attorney blog.

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