YouTube star and filmmaker Casey Neistat casually dropped a huge piece of news today in his vlog: he’s under investigation by the FAA for improper drone usage.

Hear it from the man himself at 1:38 below.

Ultimately who knows what will happen.  Internet police have been sounding alarm bells about Neistat’s drone flying pretty much since he started flying them and certain parts of the internet are cheering the news of the investigation today, especially on Reddit.

Neistat is famous for doing things His Way, and if he breaks a few rules along the way, so be it.  Heck, his very first viral video involved vandalism in the name of consumer advocacy:

No use in trying to reach out to either the FAA or Neistat for a comment on this, as I doubt the FAA would comment about an ongoing investigation and Neistat is probably too busy to be bothered by it (he didn’t seem too phased while announcing it today).  The FAA, though, might actually be on shaky ground.  Their drone registration requirement was recently struck down in court, the judge saying they lacked jurisdiction to make such a ruling on ‘model aircraft’.  What that ruling didn’t apply to, however, is commercial operation of a drone.

(by the way, if you want to see some incredible non-drone photography, check out my recent high-alititude helicopter photography flight over Dallas, Texas)

Where I think the investigation will center around is what constitutes “commercial operation” of a drone.  For instance, I’ve flown my drone in eastern Germany and posted the video on YouTube and here.  I get paid a few pennies from YouTube and a few dollars from the blog, so was that commercial operation?  Or was that me flying my drone recreationally and providing the footage at no cost to a commercial entity at a later date?

Neistat most likely does not pay himself for his drone footage.  That said, he probably brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars from ads and YouTube adsense money.  But do the drone shots represent commercial usage simply because they’re later used on a monetized platform?  I guess that’s what will be determined in the courts.  I think if they rule that any potential monetization of any drone footage on something like YouTube or Vimeo constitutes commercial usage then we’re all in a lot of trouble.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted as I hear more.  In other news, the DJI Spark looks really cool!

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