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“Lights, Camera…Take-off”: Legal Considerations When Hiring a Drone Services Operator for Filming

The entertainment industry was one of the first to put drones into use and take advantage of the “better, faster, cheaper” solutions they provide for filming. While the appeal of using the technology is undeniable, hiring a competent drone services operator to film on set is not without its potential pitfalls.

One of the biggest issues for producers is confirming that the drone operator hired has sufficient experience and knowledge to perform the required tasks with expert precision and skill. Transport Canada’s recently enacted regulatory amendments to Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (the “CARs”) require drone pilots to meet specific knowledge criteria in order to be licensed to fly – a clear step towards “professionalizing” the drone piloting industry. However, flying skill and knowledge of air rules is not all that make a competent drone services operator; they must be attuned to the specific challenges and risks associated with filming on set.

The importance of hiring a competent drone operator is tangible. It directly contributes to more efficient and cost-effective filming. The preparedness and professionalism of a competent operator will also, in many cases, avoid potential accidents that may cause delays in filming or even lawsuits for damage or losses incurred. In the unfortunate situation where an accident occurs, the due diligence steps taken by a production company in hiring reputable and qualified drone operators will assist the production company in defending allegations of negligence made against it.

Here are some key questions to consider before hiring a drone services operator to assist with filming on a production set:

  1. Do they have the right drone for the job?

There is no “one size fits all drone”. Drones have different take off mechanisms, greater levels of versatility, and can carry different payloads, making some more suited than others for filming in the specific conditions required by the production company. Speak to your intended operator about what equipment they recommend to complete the job to get a sense of whether they are exercising their professional judgment to determine what meets the production company’s needs rather than simply trying to make their existing drone fit for the job.

2. Do they have standard operating procedures and emergency procedures?

A drone operator that has in place standard operating procedures (“SOPs”) for dealing with the many variables applicable to operations are generally more trustworthy. Further, emergency procedures in place ought to give the production company similar confidence that the operator “expects the unexpected” and has an action plan in place to keep the crew, actors, production equipment and any bystanders safe from harm. While the CARs do not currently require drone operators to have SOPs or a safety management system in place, competent operators will have already turned their minds to this.

3. Do they have insurance?

While holding liability insurance is no longer a regulatory requirement in Canada, there is good reason to require the drone services operator you hire to hold insurance. In aviation, accidents happen and the litigation arising from an accident can be costly and time-intensive. Many qualified drone services operators continue to hold liability insurance (and other forms of insurance) for their operations. Ensure the intended operator holds insurance, and seek to have the production company added as an additional insured to the policy.

4. Will they enter into a written agreement for their services?

The hallmark of a professional operator is one who regularly uses written agreements in their dealings with their customers. Key aspects of any agreement from drone services specify that the operator will be responsible for complying with all applicable laws (including the CARs, the Aeronautics Act, municipal bylaws, and provincial trespass to property acts), detail of the scope of the work and the deliverable, and include copyright provisions, hold harmless clauses in favour of the production company, and data collection and protection process provisions.

If you wish to discuss this post or its possible implications for your business, please contact Kathryn McCulloch at Dentons.

“Lights, Camera…Take-off”: Legal Considerations When Hiring a Drone Services Operator for Filming