We didn’t get a chance last week to mention a noteworthy court case that was a big win for journalists and for free speech, but since the Dallas Morning News has so far overlooked it, despite the many Dallas connections to the case, we figured better late than never.
Chapter 423 of the Texas Government Code was a dumb chapter. While allowing drone photography for all sorts of commercial settings, it banned the practice in many of those same settings for journalists. Patrick Williams, editor of the Dallas Observer offered a hypothetical last week: “[U]nder Texas law, a pipeline company could use drones to take pictures of its own lines and use those photos in its marketing materials to investors. If that same pipeline leaked and began spewing oil over the countryside, any news photographer who dared to use a drone to take a picture of the leak could face criminal charges and be sued by the pipeline company.”
It’s appropriate that the Observer till now was the only Dallas outlet to write about this. A former Observer editor named Joe Pappalardo was a plaintiff on the suit that led to the law’s undoing, along with the National Press Photographers Associations and the Texas Press Association. The suit described an incident involving Brandon Wade, a North Texas freelancer, and it was supported by an amicus brief written by Paul Watler, a Dallas lawyer. Like I said, lots of Dallas connections. The rest of the state can thank us for defending truth, justice, and the American way. Oh, and making it possible to catch people who dump pig blood into rivers.
Remember when the Columbia Packing Company was caught dumping pig blood into the Trinity River by a guy who snapped an aerial photo of the red mess with his drone? Totally not hypothetical. That’s the sort of incident this court victory gives journalists the freedom to cover.