Recently, I was contacted by News 2 in Nashville (story) to discuss a recent incident involving an unmanned aircraft. What is an unmanned aircraft? It was a drone. The basic situation went as follows:
A neighbor, we will call him Snoop, had purchased a small aircraft with four propellers at a local electronics store. The important feature with this drone was that it was equipped with a camera. While Snoop was flying his drone over the property owned by neighbor, who we will call Citizen, he happened to see people swimming in the pool. Snoop clicked a few pictures of Citizen’s pool and yard area then promptly flew the drone back to his own property. Citizen called the police to report the incident.
Was this a crime?
Yes. This could be considered a crime under the amended statute of Tenn. Code. Ann. § 39-14-405(d). The amendment came in July 1, 2014 that changed subsection (d) of the statute. The statute formerly only included the language of “entire body.” The statue as amended includes the new language of “or when a person causes an unmanned aircraft to enter that portion of the airspace above the owner’s land not regulated as navigable airspace by the federal aviation administration.”
What is the punishment?
A violation of this statute is considered a class C misdemeanor. A class C misdemeanor includes punishment of up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine.
Are there any defenses?
Yes. Under Tenn. Code. Ann. § 39-13-903 it is a defense to prosecution of this offense if the alleged defendant destroys the captured image as soon as they find out it was captured in violation of the statute And the haven’t disclosed, displayed or distributed the image. So as long as Snoop didn’t post the image to Facebook, Instagram and the web, he should be ok.
Additionally, if the drone was used in a lawful purpose such as by professor doing scholarly research, maintenance of utility districts, and/or another legitimate government there is no violation. A listing of these lawful purposes can be found at Tenn. Code. Ann. § 39-13-902.
Outdoor Parties / Firework Shows
It is important to note that on April 20, 2015, the legislature enacted an amendment to Tenn. Code. Ann. § 39-13-902(a) to film fireworks displays and the like without the consent of the owner of the venue.
It is also amended to make it an offense to film an outdoor event that is ticketed without the venue or owners consent.