On Friday, Sweden's Supreme Administrative Court (Högsta förvaltningsdomstolen) ruled that any drones with a camera mounted on them will now be treated as surveillance cameras as defined by the country's Video Surveillance Act.
The change means that a permit will now be required from the local county administrative board in order to use a drone to film.
And with Sweden's Data Protection Authority (Datainspektionen) making it clear that permits for surveillance cameras are usually only granted if the goal of the filming is to “prevent, detect or investigate crime or to prevent accidents”, the move could have significant consequences.
The advent of drones (also known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS) has allowed photographers to capture images that were previously unattainable without access to much more expensive aerial filming gear like a helicopter rig.
Just last week The Local featured a Swiss photographer's stunning aerial footage of Sweden's varied landscapes for example, which was filmed with a drone. Last winter meanwhile, a Gothenburg resident showed how a combination of a drone and a silly sense of humour can help create a viral video – to the amusement of 433,395 Youtube viewers and counting.
The change is no laughing matter for many businesses however. Media companies both small and large have invested in drones in recent years, while the real estate industry, which often uses drones to take aerial pictures of properties, will also be hit.
“This will end up making all businesses with drone mounted cameras illegal,” Johan Lindqvist, a spokesperson for drone trade association UAS Sweden, told The Local.
“That ends with employees having to be let go. This ruling will put Sweden back in the Stone Age instead of being one of Europe's leading countries in the field.”
Lindqvist said he expects the majority of permit requests to be rejected, and warned that jobs are now at risk.
“There will be no UAS business left to do in Sweden. Developers can't test aircraft with the cameras due to the law. Operators can't fly with cameras due to the law. This only happened last Friday, but we guess there is a lot of thinking going on right now.”
He isn't the only person concerned about the change. On Monday, estate agent Svensk Fastighetsförmedling complained that their customers will now be affected.
“It's sad. I think this is something our customers are going to miss. It impacts the whole industry: we've told our branches to await guidance from our legal team which is looking at it just now,” its marketing head Johanna Gavefalk told news agency TT.
Liberal Party MP Mathias Sundin meanwhile has called for the Swedish government to bring about a law change to solve the issue.
“The government should urgently make sure that the law is changed. Drones are becoming a natural part of airspace. This will hurt hard,” Sundin wrote on Twitter.
“Listen government. If it takes years to update the law it's going to hit the drone industry in Sweden hard,” he added.
Drone association spokesperson Lindqvist is not optimistic about the time it could take to bring in a new law undoing the effects of the ruling.
“This ruling has been made at the highest level. It can only be reversed by EU courts or by a new law, and that takes about two years,” he bemoaned.