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In the last few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of remote-controlled copters – often given the convenient but misleading epithets of unmanned aerial vehicles or “drones” – by recreational users to capture aerial photographs and videos on an unprecedented scale. Asia is no exception. The convergence of cutting-edge technological developments in gyroscopic gimbals, long-range wireless transmissions, GPS-enabled stabilisation, GPS-enabled flightpath-preprogramming, first-person-views, and compact digital imaging has led to the proliferation of affordable camera-carrying “drones” that even hobbyists can pilot with reasonable safety. Thus far, despite purported controversies there have not been any reports of serious mishaps involving the use of these rotor-propelled copters – mainly because these copters are incapable of heavy payloads and, in any event, have a series of fail-safe tools. Yet, there has been a consistent stream of public concern relating to issues of safety, privacy, and even the protection of monopolised commercial interests. Lost in the paranoid cacophony is a question that warrants proper legislative reflection: how can such tools be regulated in a way that is proportionate and sensible? There are some jurisdictions that have already tabled legislation to regulate recreational droning, while many others are planning to introduce the same, while some are relying on clearly anachronistic legislation as a stop-gap measure. Can the law keep pace with new technology, or is the challenge too formidable? How is Asia – the principal manufacturer, exporter, and user of many of these copters – responding to the situation? This paper, presented at the 2015 ASLI Conference, will examine some of the laws in the region and beyond to demonstrate how the right balance between the freedom of expression and freedom to create art, and the purported competing demands of safety, privacy, and commercial interests can be struck – or not. Questions relating to the appropriate height, distance, weight, airbase-proximity, and line of sight limits; the necessity of a licensing and/or training scheme; and the supposed problems of privacy intrusion and obstruction of commercial interests will be addressed. Ultimately, however, what is needed first and foremost is a complete mind-set shift in the legislators before one goes down the path of no return.


UAV, drone, aerial photography, aerial videography, DJI


Asian Studies | Law | Privacy Law


Asian Law Institute Conference: Law 2.0: New Challenges in Asia, 21-22 May 2015

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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Singapore Management University School of Law Research Paper No. 50/2015 on SSRN