Drone videos capturing banned motocross races spark legal battle

It’s the sort of legal conflict likely to proliferate as the number of UAVs flown by private users continues to multiply. A couple in Massachusetts is threatening “criminal harassment” charges against neighbors who used drones to capture video evidence of continuing motocross races on their property that officials previously ordered to cease.

That demonstration of the-best-defense-is-offence tactic arose in the Taunton suburb of Berkeley, located about 35 miles south of Boston. According to reports in the local Taunton Daily Gazette, municipal authorities ordered the regular dirtbike activity to be halted last year after neighbors complained about the noise, creation of dust clouds, and influx of traffic to the sprawling property of dirt roads over undulating hills. When the motocross activity continued unabated, a pair of locals pulled out their drones to take video evidence for officials to take further action with. 

In response to that aerial “gotcha,” the owners of the land have threatened to file criminal harassment charges, claiming the drones, videos, and navigating neighbors are part of a persecution effort to prevent them from using their property as they please.

Read: Missouri debates privacy bill to ban drones photographing people or property

Virtually everything in the conflict is disputed, including just who is out of order and may be exposed to legal reprisal.

Berkeley council members last year heard testimony in the case, establishing the property – which is in a non-business zoning area – was being used for dirtbike racing and training. Despite a YouTube video detractors say proves the activity is commercial in nature, the owners retorted that riders are allowed, but not obliged, to make donations for use of the track. 

Officials replied that any exchange of money made it a business, and ordered Berkeley building inspector Joseph Biszko to issue a cease and desist order. 

When the motocross activity continued on despite the interdiction, the neighbors got to work with their drones, handing over the incriminating videos to Biszko to have warnings and fines issued for the recurring violations. The property owners responded by demanding they be given the footage, and when that was denied, called the cops on Biszko. 

Read: Michigan judge blocks county’s drone ban on public properties

The Taunton Daily Gazette described the resulting police report as taking the motocross couple’s side, saying the drone flights capturing the motocross videos constituted “repeated and targeted… criminal  harassment” from which the property owners “have suffered emotional stress stemming from these incidents.”

Ironically – in contrast to the neighbors who took the aerial videos in the affair – the property owners did not cite noise complaints in denouncing the drone flights, whose whirring was presumably drowned out by the motocross din.

Further council meetings are scheduled to try and sort the mess out.

Photo: Linus Akesson/Unsplash

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