Drones & Property Rights
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Drones & Property Rights


The question of whether someone can fly a
drone over your house is a pretty complex one. On the one hand, someone flying a drone
a couple of millimeters above the blades of grass on your land would clearly implicate
your property rights. However, someone flying a drone at 500 feet or 700 feet above your
land clearly would not implicate your property rights and so the question is, where do we
draw the line between a couple of millimeters above a blade of grass all the way up to a
couple of 100 feet above your property. Where does the landowners rights end and the public
navigable airspace begin? In the 1940’s the US Supreme Court handed down a decision,
US v. Causby. In the case the Causby’s who were chicken farmers sued the Federal government
because the Federal government was flying over their property at low altitude. The case
made it all the way to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court said that the Causby’s
actually had a property right in the airspace above their land and specifically over flights
that took place at 83 feet above their land intruded upon the Causby’s property rights.
What was really interesting about this case is it for the first time established a right
of property in the airspace above one’s land. But what was even more interesting is that
the Court of Federal Claims said that not only did the Causby’s own up to 83 feet
above their land, they were actually entitled to damages for over flights ranging from 83
feet all the way up to 365 feet above their property. In almost all circumstances you
can’t destroy a drone that flies over your property. The reason for this or the analogy
is pretty simple. If someone were to ride a moped onto your land, would you be entitled
to go out with a baseball bat and smash up the moped? The answer is clearly no. They
would be able to sue you for damaging their property and you’d be able to sue them for
a trespass and on balance I think what would end up happening is the person who destroyed
the moped would get the raw end of that deal. In the same way, if you were to destroy someone’s
drone for flying over your property they would be able to sue you for the damages that you
did to their drone. We’re starting to see a few disputes now between drone fliers and
property owners and the way these disputes are oftentimes playing out is that the drone
flier is flying at some low altitude and the landowner incorrectly believes that they have
some right to destroy that person’s drone. What we’re finding in those circumstances
is that for the most part courts are siding with the drone owner saying that that person
has a right to operate that aircraft and not have their aircraft destroyed. However, we
are also seeing a few cases, in particular a case in Kentucky where the court basically
is throwing out charges against individuals who are destroying drones saying that the
landowner actually has a right to destroy the drone that’s trespassing upon its property.
I think that the cases that are trending towards giving people a right to destroy the drones
are wrongly decided. A better way to decide this is to say that landowners have some rights
to exclude low altitude flights and drone operators can be liable if they fly at low
altitudes whereas those drones that fly at high altitudes have a right to be there and
the land owners really don’t have a claim against those individuals.

24 Comments

  • jf2mad

    I really don't care what any level of government says. If a drone is flying over my home so low that 12 gauge birdshot can damage it, then guess what is going to happen.And the analogy of a moped is bullshit. Mopeds are not unmanned or anonymous. Drones can fly in, invade privacy and disappear leaving no way to track the pervert operating it. The best thing to do with an invading drone in my opinion is drop it. Then when the owner comes to retrieve it drop him too. THAT's a precedent that will be noticed.

  • Gary Etn

    US Supreme Court did not establish ownership of airspace in feet in the US versus Cosby case. That was an easement case regarding the airport that was behind Mr. Cosby's home. The high court ruled under the Suprmecy act or article of the United States Constitution the airspace is under the control of the United States government. Under Cosby the 83 feet was because that was the height of this tallest tree on his property. Old common law allows for your property to go to what you use and not not all the way up to the heavens. That was the theory of all common law there is a case now that gives guidance to individuals re. The use of air space. Boggs v. Meredith where Boggs shoots down A drone over his property claiming a right to privacy and trespassing.
    Not only is it illegal to shoot down the drone Boggs was found guilty of firing in a dangerous manner within the city limits. The high court ruled that Boggs had no right to assume privacy in his own backyard or did he have the right to randomly shoot into the air causing danger. The court also a rule that Bob's airspace above did not belong to him and was under the control of the FAA United States government do to the new actions of flying machines. The FAA has ruled drones as planes. Read the fifth article to the constitution regarding supremacy act. It for a bed cities and towns to try to regulate air space that is under the control of the federal government.

  • Darla Ballard

    Not if it's late hrs n with no permission at. From land /home owners property it's straight ilegal flying I'm gonna a look up drone flying restrictions. N invastion of privacy

  • Andy Bawn

    FAA regulation minimum height.
    (b) Over congested areas – Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over
    any open-air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle
    within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.
    (c) Over other than congested areas – An altitude of 500 feet above the surface except over
    open water or sparsely populated areas. In that case, the aircraft may not be operated
    closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

  • Scottie1040

    Prove I shot the stupid thing down. Prove it wasn't flying too low. Prove every bit of your case, or go get another drone to play with and go play somewhere else. Simply by denying that you are the one that brought it down will go a very long way toward shutting down this stupid behavior. Shoot, shovel and shut up.

  • mrdave2112

    If drones can't be flown over private property, planes ought to be included. Google planes have way better zoom power than any drone. Also, planes have crashed into houses and killed people. Drone crashes could injure people or property too.

  • Dissident One

    Let's cut to the chase here. What this is really about is keeping perverts from flying over your backyards to take pictures of your daughter sunbathing or worse. Perverts who wants to look at into other people's windows and backyards need to be prosecuted by the state has stopped protecting the public. As usual there on the side of evil against good. We've lost our way.

  • mercoid

    So basically someone can fly a drone over your property and you have no legal recourse. And if you destroy it you’re legally liable. So let’s see what happens to me if I fly a drone over the yard of a local politician or the police chief…, perhaps while their kids are in the backyard playing?? Hmm?? Let’s see how fast I’d be in a soundproof room in the police station with a phone book against my head while they hit it with a hammer. Where are regular people’s right to privacy?

  • Teeny Canoe

    If a drone has a camera for taking pictures it will be fair game if over private property. The pictures being taken are illegal and can not be used in evidence for proof that the who shot it down. I would suggest that drone owners with expensive drones not fly over private property. Because there are a host of people who will shoot them down #2 shot in a 12 gage 3 1/2" shells can really take out a drown, but #4 Buck will do even better.

  • Michael Klein

    In ohio I understand that I have the right to cut a tree limb that overhangs my property line.(cut can be to myside of property line) some legal precedent I assume. Drone (property) crosses prop line (with camera) how come I can't prune the drone? 0 to 500' above ground.

  • Alex Torres

    Sorry to say your video has a gross misrepresentation by portraying a motor bike with somebody mounted on it as being driven thru private property….the correct representation would be a motor vehicle riding in your property with nobody inside it…..then tell if showing the property owner using any means to stop the intrusive artifact wouldn't look reasonable…

  • Optical Clarity

    Hover it over my property, I'll destroy it. Take me to court & I'll subpoena all of your drone footage & gps records. And WHEN we show you are using the drone to peer into people's houses, expect counter charges & a jury nullification all day every day.

  • Airspeed 3D Drones

    I was hired by a company to take shots of a house that they did work on. I was operating under Part 107 and flying in class G airspace. I made sure that nobody was present in any of the shots and proceeded without incidence. Am I legal?

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