Drone Laws: An interview with Drone Lawyer Peter Lee
Drone Laws vary a great deal around the globe
Peter Lee from law firm Taylor Vinters is based in the UK and is one of the world’s leading drone lawyers; we asked him about drone laws around the globe.
Q. You are a technology and drone lawyer in the UK, what prompted you to focus on law in these areas.
Technology law is interesting because it’s a challenge to apply the law to totally new and evolving concepts. I mainly specialise in areas where tech and regulation clash such as drones, financial software and medical devices. I was one of the very first attorneys to get involved in the drone industry and soon realised there is a lot of law here! I now act for operators, manufacturers and end users of drone technologies predominately in Europe and the US mainly helping them with contracts, regulation, privacy, fundraising and intellectual property. 5 or 6 years ago many analysis thought the big growth in drone use would be large unmanned aircraft systems delivering freight and other services – think big UPS shipments between Europe and the US. International law and sense and avoid technology means this has been a slow burn. In fact the industry has unexpectedly boomed at the smaller end in both professional services and consumer offerings – these are the really exciting sections of the market at the moment.
Q. The UK is doing a good job of enabling the commercialization of drone technology, at least in comparison to other countries. Any thoughts on why that is?
The UK has a good mix of technology, entrepreneurs, permissive regulation and venture capital. I think the single biggest influencer has been the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority. They have been progressive, open to new technology in the skies and in working with other stakeholders like pilots, the privacy regulator, specialist interest organisations and campaigner groups. They have done all this with a keen eye on safety. The CAA pioneered a risk based approach to drone integration into the airspace and it’s turning out to be the model of choice for much of the developed world. The UK has also been quite good a prosecuting people who break the rules with drones; this is important because it helps to protect professional drone operators, keep things safe and give the public confidence in the application of the technology.
Q. Drone technology is evolving rapidly and will meet many commercial needs. What role should the law play in the industry? Should these laws be at a national level or be handled by global bodies such as the United Nations?
The law should not be seen as a barrier to the drone industry, it’s about achieving a balance between safety (both physical and privacy) on the one hand and too much red tape on the other. If the rules are too prohibitive or complex, then, as we have seen in the US, folks will just break them and promising businesses could be driven away. The best companies in the world think globally and will move their business and jobs to regions where use of drone technology is most permissive. To keep competitive we need to be creative, safe and consider all the different ways law and ethics touches drone use. The challenge is for regulators and international bodies to adapt quickly and also to work out who should be responsible for drone activities. For instance, just because small drones fly, are aviation authorities necessarily best placed to regulate them – or are the police or others better suited and resourced?
Q. If you were in charge of setting drone policy for the EU what would be the key components of your policy?
The EU needs to accelerate harmonisation of drone laws and permission to fly procedures across all Member States. The sooner it does this, the faster companies can take advantage of the Union’s free trade economy. At present if you are a professionally qualified drone operator and want to work in another EU country, there is too much red tape.
Q. Are you a drone hobbyist?
I have a couple of small hobby drones that I like to fly, but am always reminded to leave it to the experts when I do.
Q. What books would you recommend that people who are interested in drones check out?
The sector is moving so quickly that most books are out of date the moment they are published! I like keeping up to speed by reading blogs, industry reports and Twitter. People interested in the intersection of drones, law and regulation should check out my blog (that I have imaginatively titled ‘Drones and the Law’): #. I also think some of the online technology press is well researched and balanced, I look out for articles in publications like Wired, the Economist and, of course, The Best Drone Info…
Q. What questions should I have asked you about that you’d like to share your thoughts on?
There are some big legal challenges to be tackled as the industry continues to develop. Key battlegrounds will probably include liability challenges (especially as machines become more automated), privacy and data protection concerns, airspace integration and insurance matters. I think there is plenty for me to be getting on with!