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Federal Court Voids State Drone Law

- Deemed Violation of First Amendment

A federal judge based in Austin declared last week that the state law prohibiting the use of unmanned aerial vehicles known as “drones” for newsgathering is inconsistent with the First Amendment and, therefore, invalid. 

The ruling was made in a lawsuit brought by the National Press Photographers Association, the Texas Press Association, and a journalist. TAB filed a “friend of the court” brief supporting the plaintiffs which was prepared by attorneys with Jackson Walker, LLP, TAB’s general counsel law firm, and joined by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Attorney Paul Watler with Jackson Walker offered the following takeaways for journalists:

  • Journalists hold a constitutionally protected right to document and disseminate the news.
  • It is lawful to use drones for newsgathering activities and to publish their images.
  • News organizations may use drone photography and images without looming concerns of liability.
  • The right to fly drones is not absolute. Although the court found this particular Texas law too broad in scope, drone usage continues to be subject to narrower statutes and regulations concerning safety and national security that carry stiff civil and criminal penalties.

The State of Texas has 30 days after entry of judgment to appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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