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Drones at Your Next Company Meeting? Tips for In-House Counsel

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on December 16, 2015 1:05 PM

A lot of attention has been paid recently to the topic of emerging electronic consumables. Between hover-boards and drones, the latter are clearly cooler.

Drones are not only cooler, they also have greater potential for commercial application. But lawyers should know better than to let company employees fly these things across board rooms. We've tried to put together a quick list of things in-house counsel should keep in mind when advising about the latest in drone concerns.

"Settled" Law

Currently, the only settled piece of law for drones across the US is that users must register their drones with the FAA if they weigh between half a pound and 55 pounds. The law just recently went into effect and registration costs $5. The fee will be waived for a short period in order to encourage registration, so get cracking.

Ad Coelum ... Drone Style

Companies wishing to use drones in a commercial manner have a different set of laws that will apply to them -- unfortunately, they are being developed as this is written. What seems to be clear is that commercial companies will have to petition the FAA for an exemption to the usual registration law mentioned above. Thus, each company can almost be considered its own little fiefdom with armies of potential knight-drones. But everything that goes wrong in that kingdom is that kingdom's problem, and theirs alone.

Practical sense should rule the day. While states continue to scratch their heads about the best way to go about drafting laws that regulate the proper use of drones, in-house lawyers should take pro-active steps to fill the legal gaps that land their companies in legal trouble.

  • Amend By-Laws: GCs and other in-house would do well to caution their respective companies to amend company bylaws that expressly consider drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles/systems (UAV/S). Do you need to get so drastic as to change the articles of incorporation? We don't think so. Just at least get something official down on paper so all of the officers have something to look to if there is any question as to what the company policy should be on drones.
  • Only Company Drones: The company should strictly prohibit the use of other third party drones on the premises. This means less fun, but also fewer potential lawsuits.
  • Within the Premises: Keep the use of company drones directly over the owned (or leased) property. This is another prophylactic move that will at least reduce the number of accusations that company drones were improperly spying or even trespassing into someone else's property.

Gap Filling

"Gap filling" is a term that so many lawyers hate, but it sometimes is the only choice we have. It's originally a contract term, but there's some application here. The idea is a company making sense of the situation and issuing temporary measures to ensure that rules exist for every situation. Until your jurisdiction clearly lays out settled statute on the use of drones in a commercial setting, in house lawyers will have to settle to filling in the gaps in the concrete so their companies don't trip and fall.

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