North Carolina Board Threatens Private Drone Mapmakers Because They Aren’t Licensed ‘Surveyors’
Do you actually need to be a state-licensed surveyor in order to use drone technology to map out private property? A collision between drone-driven entrepreneurial innovation and occupational license gatekeeping in North Carolina has led to a lawsuit.
Michael Jones launched a drone photography business in Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 2016, taking aerial photos of private property (on behalf of the property owners) and using tech tools to put the images together as maps. According to the Institute for Justice, which is representing him, Jones’ business—360 Virtual Drone Services—did not represent or market itself as engaging in “land surveying.” The maps he created were not designed to be used to establish legal property boundaries.
These were maps developed for property owners’ and developers’ purposes, like determining ways to alter the land and to evaluate the state of their property. Jones is simply using drone technology to collate images of property and present them in topographical maps and 3D visualizations.
This has run Jones afoul of North Carolina’s Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors, which oversees the licensing of professionals in these fields. In 2018, the board sent Jones a letter telling him he was being investigated for possibly engaging in surveying without a license. Then, in 2019, he was sent a cease-and-desist letter telling him to stop his mapping work. If he did not, he faced the possibility of civil and even criminal charges for engaging in surveying work without a license. He could be fined up to $1,000
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