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State Appeals Verdict in Drone Lawsuit

The State of Texas is appealing a federal court ruling issued in March that invalidated the state law prohibiting the use of unmanned aerial vehicles known as “drones” for newsgathering as being inconsistent with the First Amendment. 

The move was not surprising, but TAB’s legal counsel advises that until a stay is issued either by the judge who issued the ruling or by the appellate court, photojournalists may continue to exercise their First Amendment right of newsgathering through the use of drones.  

TAB is preparing to lead a media coalition in filing another amicus brief in the proceeding. 

The March 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.

When the ruling was issued, attorney Paul Watler with Jackson Walker had 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.

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

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