Drones have become so accessible and widespread that it’s easier than ever for almost anyone to get great drone videos. When you have great videos, the logical next step is to post them on YouTube where everyone else can enjoy them and appreciate your creativity, right? Before you go and upload your drone videos, here’s what you need to know.
If you have any intention at all of monetizing your YouTube videos, now or in the future, OR if your drone videos will enhance or promote your business in any way, you must have a Part 107 Remote Pilot license before filming those videos.
It’s just a gray area, you say, or it’s just a hobby. But according to the FAA, any drone operation that is for the purpose of earning money or promoting a business falls under the Part 107 regulations for drone flight. Not everyone who posts videos on YouTube earns money from them, but let’s be honest, almost everyone at least has it in the back of their mind as a possibility down the road. If that’s you, and you’re not monetizing your YouTube videos yet, you still need to get a Part 107 license, and here’s why.
Why You Need a License to Post Drone Videos on YouTube
If you truly just want to put your drone videos on YouTube for the fun of it, and never plan to monetize or earn money from the videos in any way, you really don’t need to get a Remote Pilot’s license. But if monetization, earnings or business advancement are going to come from those videos somewhere down the line, you’re in violation of FAA regulations if you filmed them without a license.
Read more: Your Questions About Part 107 Answered
The FAA Part 107 regulations are rules for drone operations for commercial purposes. Many who want to post their videos on YouTube balk at this and insist that they are not flying their drone for commercial purposes, but that it’s just a hobby. But under the FAA definition, commercial use includes any activities that generate direct or indirect income, or help a business in some way. This could include aerial photos and videos for advertisement, or for the surveillance of a commercial facility. With this in mind, videos that help gain viewers for your YouTube channel are certainly helping to promote your “business”, even if it’s not making very much money.
Keep in mind that the Part 107 license is not retroactive. If you get a license later on, it technically doesn’t cover the videos you filmed prior to having the license. It’s tempting to say that you want to just get a bunch of videos up on your YouTube channel, see how they do, and decide later on if you want to monetize, and just get your license at that point. Unfortunately, that’s not abiding by the FAA regulations, and you run the risk of getting fined.
The very simple way to avoid this risk is to just go ahead and get your Part 107 Remote Pilot’s License. It’s not as big of a hurdle as it may sound. It costs $160 to take your Aeronautical knowledge test, which may sound like more than you want to pay, but for most of us it’s really not going to break the bank. And it’s a lot less than you’ll pay if the FAA comes down on you with some fines for commercial drone operation without a license.
Read more: How to become a professional drone pilot.
Aside from the cost of the test, and a little bit of mental effort to learn the material required for the test, it’s not a huge ordeal. True, it does take some time and effort to study for the Part 107 test, and maybe even a little bit more money to pay for a prep class. If you’re looking for a good Part 107 study course, check out our recommendations.
In the end, if you’re out there flying your drone a lot, and hopefully making some money on the side to support your hobby (or even make a living!), you really do need to know how to operate safely. And that’s exactly what you’ll learn for the Part 107 license.
Another Reason a Drone License is a Good Idea for YouTubers
If you post a drone video on YouTube, you can be sure the video will give you away if you have violated any of the FAA regulations for safe drone operations. And most of these regulations apply not just to licensed drone pilots, but to anyone flying a drone. For example, if you post a video of an aerial flight over a parade, you’ve just revealed that you broke the rules by flying over a crowd. Even if you’re not monetizing your YouTube channel, the FAA could potentially come after you for violating regulations for safe drone operation.
If you are going to be posting a lot of videos on YouTube, you really do need to know the rules for safe flight, not just because you might get caught, but because it’s the responsible thing to do. If you take the time to become a Part 107 licensed drone pilot, you will know all where it’s safe to fly, and how to operate a drone in accordance with the FAA guidelines. The added bonus is that you can monetize your channel without any worry about whether or not you’re in compliance.
If you’re not sure what the FAA guidelines are for safe drone operations, you can read more in our beginner’s guide to drones.
Does the FAA Really Care?
Perhaps you’re thinking that it’s really not that big a deal, and besides, you know plenty of other YouTubers who post drone videos without a license, and no one from the FAA has come knocking on their door. It’s probably true that if you’re discreet, not being splashy, not posting crazy videos of flagrant violations of FAA rules, you might be able to slip past unnoticed. But that’s not really the point, is it?
The mom in me says don’t see how sneaky you can be to get away with things, or just plain careless, do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. But besides that, there is a chance that someone might report you to the FAA for monetizing your drone footage without a license. If they have a cause to investigate you, and especially if they find footage that demonstrates that you are not abiding by the rules for safe flight, you could potentially be facing some hefty fines. More likely, the first step will be a warning to either remove the videos or get licensed, but consider this story.
Back in December 2020, the high-profile YouTube channel PhillyDroneLife became the center of an FAA investigation, and ended up with a fine of $182,000. This level of fine is certainly above what you might expect under other circumstances, but this YouTuber had several incidents of violating FAA guidelines for drone flight, including flying over 400 feet AGL, and reckless flying. This in addition to having his videos on a monetized YouTube channel without having a drone license.
According the the FAA, if you operate a drone for commercial purposes without a license, or fly in violation of the rules for safe drone operations, you could face a fine up to $27,500 for civil penalties, and up to $250,000 for criminal penalties.
Rather than risk the hassle of a potential investigation from the FAA, take a few weeks to study up and take the Part 107 test. Doing things by the book will give you peace of mind, and save you the potential headaches of a legal run-in. On top of that, by being responsible, you won’t run the risk of giving the rest of the drone community a bad name and tighter restrictions. If you’re posting drone videos on YouTube, do yourself and the rest of us a favor, and just get your remote pilot license.