Category Archives: Uncategorized

Administrative Law Judge Decides that Commercial Drone Use is Not Prohibited by FAA Rules

UPDATE ON 3/7 : Not surprisingly, the FAA has appealed, and of course taking the position that this appeal “stays” the ALJ’s decision on the “ban” and that the “ban” is still in effect.  This is of course the view that the FAA should take.  An alternate view is that there never was a valid “ban” at all – so the ALJ’s decision solely relating to Pirker’s fine is stayed (e.g. the Motion to Dismiss).


The FAA attempted to fine Raphael Pirker $10,000 for “illegally” flying his plane at the University of Virginia, gathering film for a commercial.

His defense?  Quite simple.  Pirker argued that the FAA had no basis for fining him because the FAA had never gone through the rulemaking process and attempted to regulate model aircraft.  In other words, his activity wasn’t illegal, and a 2007 FAA policy notice wasn’t binding.

On March 6th, 2014, Patrick Geraghty, an Administrative Law Judge with the National Transportation Safety Board, ruled in favor of Piker, and dismissed the FAA’s fine.   In reviewing the applicable law, he held that while the FAA certainly had valid regulations pertaining to “aircraft”, they did not extend to “model aircraft” – that the FAA had historically (themselves) distinguished between those devices, and couldn’t now argue that regulations relating to aircraft encompassed models as well.

It is concluded that, as [the FAA]: has not issued an enforceable FAR regulatory rule governing model aircraft operation; has historically exempted model aircraft from the statutory FAR definitions of “aircraft” by relegating model aircraft operations to voluntary compliance with the guidance expressed in AC 91-57, Respondent’s model, aircraft operation was not subject to FAR regulation, and enforcement.

Decisional Order, Page 3.

Judge Geraghy also concluded that Congress, at least in 2012, must not have believed that there were any rules in place relating to the commercial use of unmanned aerial systems.  Why?  Because when they passed the FAA Modernization Re-authorization and Reform Act of 2012, specifically Subtitle B, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Congress directed the FAA to define acceptable standards for operation and certification of civil UAS.  Why do that it rules already existed?

Because the FAA had never completed the rulemaking process for “model aircraft” or “unmanned aerial systems” and because his model was not covered by FAR rules governing “aircraft” then Pirker’s actions (flying his plane for commercial use) were not prohibited by law.

The entire Decisional Order can be found here ALJ Pirker Decision (3.7.14).

CrunchBase: Using Crowdsourced Data for Commercial Purposes

For those of you who don’t know about CrunchBase (@crunchbase), it is a crowdsourced database of information about startups, people and investors.  Crunchbase describes themselves as “the free database of technology companies, people, and investors that anyone can edit. Our mission is to make information about the startup world available to everyone and maintainable by anyone.”  AOL acquired Crunchbase and TechCrunch in 2010 from Michael Arrington.

Crunchbase has been very successful in sourcing data, and have established strong relationships with many of the leading venture capital firms who regularly share data about their portfolio companies (fundraising, people, etc.).  CrunchBase has even developed an Excel Data Exporter, in addition to its API access, to allow for the broader distribution of the information contained in its databases.

The current Crunchbase Terms of Service, Privacy Policy,and Licensing Policy govern the use and access of Crunchbase data.

As of the date of this blog, the Licensing Policy provides that:

We permit anyone to republish our content in accordance with this licensing policy.

We provide CrunchBase’s content under the Creative Commons Attribution License [CC-BY]. Our content includes structured data, overviews and media files associated with companies and people. Our schema, and documentation are also offered under the Creative Commons license.

We ask that API users link back to CrunchBase from any pages that use CrunchBase data. We want to make sure that everyone is able to find the source of the content to keep the service up-to-date and accurate.

This Licensing Policy may be updated from time to time as our services change and grow. If you have any questions about this policy please contact us at

CrunchBase provides a specific licensing contract for services that charge for the use of their data. Contact

The CrunchBase Terms of Service provide further restrictions on how the API maybe used:

We provide access to portions of the Site and Service through an API thereby enabling people to build applications on top of the CrunchBase platform. For purposes of this Terms of Service, any use of the API constitutes use of the Site and Service. You agree only to use the API as outlined in the documentation provided by us on the Site.

 On any Web page or Application where you display CrunchBase company or people results, each page must include a hypertext link to the appropriate company or person profile Web page on Additional CrunchBase Branding Requirements can be found on the following Web page: CrunchBase may grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Contact us for special branding requests, which must be approved in advance in writing.

CrunchBase will utilize commercially reasonable efforts to provide the CrunchBase API on a 24/7 basis but it shall not be responsible for any disruption, regardless of length. Furthermore, CrunchBase shall not be liable for losses or damages you may incur due to any errors or omissions in any CrunchBase Content, or due to your inability to access data due to disruption of the CrunchBase API.

CrunchBase reserves the right to continually review and evaluate all uses of the API, including those that appear more competitive than complementary in nature.

CrunchBase provides a specific licensing contract for services that charge for the use of their data. Contact

CrunchBase reserves the right in its sole discretion (for any reason or for no reason) and at anytime without notice to You to change, suspend or discontinue the CrunchBase API and/or suspend or terminate your rights under these General Terms of Service to access, use and/or display the CrunchBase API, Brand Features and any CrunchBase content.

I previously reviewed various licensing schemes, including the Creative Commons scheme, in a two part earlier blog series The Call for a Harmonized Community License for 3D Content where I proposed a harmonized “community” type license for content which could be produced on 3D printers (arguing that the existing license types do not “fit” for content which can mix copyright, patent, trade dress and other rights)

For those of you who are not aware, the CC-BY license type is a very broad license grant – providing for the “maximum dissimentation of licensed materials”.  You can find the existing CC license types here and specifically the summary of CC-BY license.

Crunchbase was careful to make clear that uploaded material which they link or provide along with the company information might be licensed differently (e.g. not under the CC-BY license) and specifically made clear that:

The graphical layout of the CrunchBase website and other elements of the Site, Content or Service not described above are the copyright of CrunchBase, and may not be reproduced without permission.


Enter Pro Populi and People+

Pro Populi, a small three person startup, has been developing applications utilizing the CrunchBase dataset, one app called People+.  Pro Populi has apparently been accessing the CrunchBase data (originally via the API, but also through other means apparently) to populate their own database of content and then accessing that content (and other content) from their applications.

Wired (@Wired) reporter David Kravets (@dmkravets) broke the story on November 5th in a story titled AOL Smacks Startup for Using CrunchBase Content It Gave Away.  If you click through the link to the original Wired article, you can review some of the correspondence gathered by David Kravets in support of the story.

Pro Populi was served with a cease and desist letter from AOL (the parent company of CrunchBase).  Quoting from the Wired article, an AOL Assistant General Counsel apparently sent the following in an email to the Pro Populi CEO after a meeting with the President of CrunchBase last Friday:

On the chance that you may have misinterpreted Matt’s willingness to discuss the matter with you last week, and our reference to this as a ‘request,’ let me make clear, in more formal language, that we demand that People+ immediately cease and desist from its current violation and infringement of AOL’s/TechCrunch’s proprietary rights and other rights to CrunchBase, by removing the CrunchBase content from your People+ product and by ceasing any other use of CrunchBase-provided content.

But if CrunchBase didn’t want to allow others to use the data, why does it license its content under the CC-SA scheme?

Hopefully CrunchBase and Pro Populi can come to an agreement which works for both of them and their interests.

While CrunchBase can likely legitimately claim to restrict access to their content via their API (licensed separately, not covered by the CC-SA scheme, and with separate terms), once content covered by the CC-SA license has been accessed and copied in a manner consistent with CC-SA, can CrunchBase assert rights to “get it back?”  That seems to be an incredibly difficult road to hoe, and inconsistent with the very broad terms of the CC-SA license grant.  Worse yet, according to the Wired article, the General Counsel of the Creative Commons Corporation doesn’t think so.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation represents Pro Populi.


CrunchBase could have stayed within the CC license scheme and chosen a different CC license type for the underlying data – including one which specifically prohibits the use of the content for commercial purposes, which prohibits the creation of derivative works, and which requires specific attribution to them.  That license type is CC BY-NC-ND.  On a case by case basis they could have authorized/waived the restrictions contained in the license.  CrunchBase could have also changed the license grant for content accessed via the API.   This is solvable.

For an interesting view of this dispute from TechCrunch (a sister company to CrunchBase), see their take on the dispute.


Impact On Other “Hybrid” Commercial Use of Crowdsourced Data?

While CrunchBase and Pro Populi resolve their dispute, I am most interested in thinking about how this potentially impacts other crowdsourced data platforms and the applications built on top of them.   It is an interesting dilemma and question – how can/should crowdsourced data platforms be able to commercially benefit from their efforts – including restricting other potential competitors from a copying of data for their own purposes – commercial or otherwise?  Sourcing, filtering, vetting, editing, organizing, etc. hundreds, thousands and millions of data points is a complex undertaking.  It takes time, effort, people and ultimately money.  Unless that vetting is also done from a crowdsourced perspective (or mostly so – like the Wikipedia model), allowing potential competitors (commercial or otherwise) to copy that structured content is a potential death knell.  In that instance, openness needs to be balanced against a commercial purpose.

CrunchBase President Matt Kaufmann blogged about the CrunchBase dispute with Pro Populi and the EFF.   He essentially acknowledges the challenge of openness in the context of trying to build a commercial business – but re-affirms his belief that CrunchBase thought they restricted the use of their data (via the API or otherwise) for commercial purposes under their current licensing terms.

[T]o invest in CrunchBase’s constant improvement requires building a business around CrunchBase in a way that successfully takes into account our terms of service and our openness. We are confident that this is possible, and that’s what we are on the path to figuring out.

This is of course the challenge – adding enough value in the stack above the “open” content that can be commercialized.   As an example, take a look at MapBox – MapBox is a cloud-based platform which allows for developers to embed geo rich content into their web and mobile offerings.  They recently took $10M from Foundry Group, and I blogged about that investment – MapBox, Geo Software Platform, Maps $10M from Foundry Group.

MapBox relies on data sourced from OpenStreetMap, the “free wiki world map.”    OpenStreetMap licenses its content in two ways – the underlying data is licensed as open data under the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL) while the cartography and documentation are licensed under the CC BY-SA license, the same license selected by CrunchBase).  BTW, Kevin Scofield likes the MapBox interface too.

It would be a difficult commercial business model indeed for MapBox to go through the effort of building an infrastructure to help source, collect and organize all kinds of mapping data, which was open for other uses, as well as building an application layer on top of it.   MapBox instead focuses on creating a great platform layer on top of the otherwise “open” content (others are free to do so as well).  This model works because there is enough community interest to support an undertaking like OpenStreetMap to begin with.  Can the same be said for the data underlying CrunchBase?

3D Robotics lifts off with an additional $30M investment

3D Robotics (@3DRobotics) announced yesterday that it had raised an additional $30M in Series B funding, adding Foundry Group (@foundrygroup), with Jason Mendelson (@jasonmendelson) joining the Board, joining the existing investors — True Ventures (@trueventures, co-lead on this round) and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures.

For some interesting personal insight into Jason’s interest in 3D Robotics, see his blog here as well as the original Foundry Group post.

3D Robotics intends to use this funding to concentrate on the development of vertical applications such as agricultural crop mapping and other aerial surveying applications – through the continuing development of an open UAV platform, including the development of a next gen of autopilots, software, and complete ready to fly devices.   It appears that 3D Robotics intends to continue to develop and sell complete devices, but will also concentrate further on platform development – working in the same space as Airware.  In May 2013, Airware (@airwareUAS) took a $10.7M investment from Andreessen Horowitz (@az16), led by Chris Dixon (@cdixson) and Google Ventures (@GoogleVentures).

I have blogged about Chris Anderson (@chr1sa), the CEO of 3D Robotics, before – he is the author of Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.  I reviewed that book in the context of my children and their fascination with Minecraft.  If you haven’t read it yet, go out and buy it!

It is exciting to see the continuing validation of unmanned aerial systems development (both devices and platforms) despite (and perhaps in spite of!) the current United States regulatory framework.  There are numerous exciting new opportunities which get unlocked by the sensor fusion of using an unmanned aerial system as a platform to carry such things as say, a 3D scanner.  In my blog post from a few days ago – Unmanned Aerial Systems Global Trends 2030: Part Deux:

I am personally excited about the tremendous potential that UAS platforms will provide for future generations – there are many near term potential opportunities. I am confident that the risks of UAS platforms can be managed and minimized through the smart application of technology, best practices and process, and an appropriate regulatory framework.  It is always important to recognize that UAS devices are not new – individual hobbyists and makers have been flying all types of devices (fixed wing, single rotor, multi-rotor) for many years.  What is new is the potential democratization of this technology through lower price points, broader access to technology (via crowd funding devices like Kickstarter), and the commercial successes of existing devices (like the Parrot AR Drone series).

While the current regulatory framework within the United States has limited the commercial application of UAS in the United States, it is only a matter of time (and very little time at that) before these types of sensor platforms are used and exploited within our borders (as they are used elsewhere in the world).  Precision agriculture (using a UAS for the precision localization/application of fertilizer, insecticide, water management, etc.), first responder/emergency/humanitarian use (deploy a UAS to hover on station immediately upon a 911 call, use in searches, fly and hover to avalanche beacons, etc.), and infrastructure maintenance and management (use a UAS to inspect large constructed assets such as bridges, pipe/power lines) are first among many in book.

I am particularly excited about the use of unmanned aerial systems as a sensor platform coupled with high precision cameras, z-depth cameras or even laser scanners in order to complete real time 3D scene reconstruction.  The combination of highly accurate GPS location with such sensor platforms would allow for the capture of highly accurate 3D representations of real world assets (constructed or otherwise) supporting all types of markets and functions (modeling, inspection, enterprise asset maintenance, etc.).

Let the drone wars begin! 😉

“Grand Challenges” in 3D

I am fascinated about the profound changes impacting the create/modify/make ecosystem. In a prior blog I outlined some these profound shifts ultimately resulting in a true democratization of 3D and technologies.

See – In many ways Geomagic technology fits squarely at the intersection between the democratization of these technologies.

Yesterday [this blog was originally published on April 16th, 2012], Thomas Kalil, the Deputy Director for Policy, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, gave a speech and presentation outlining the historical context of “Grand Challenges”.  You can find the “Grand Challenges” microsite here  – – it is absolutely worthwhile to watch his presentation, or at the very least read through the text and skim the slides which are linked through here.

In this speech Mr. Kalil first gives historical context for how prizes (public and private sector) have long spurred innovation, what the attributes are and what benefits result from “grand challenges” when properly run.

In the second part of his speech, he highlights various “what if. . .?” scenarios.   These cross many industries and needs, but I found two particularly interesting, where he asks what if:

We reduce the time required to design, build and test manufactured products by a factor of 5, while dramatically increasing the number of product designers and entrepreneurs who make things?

We put the tools to design and make just about anything (e.g. 3-D printers, TechShops, Maker Sheds, FabLabs) at the fingertips of every child?

These two questions are of course interrelated and thought provoking.

Enabling and empowering a generation of “makers” will serve to spur the creative juices of an entire new crop of product designers who know how to, and what to, make “things.”  Getting 3D capture, modeling and manufacturing technologies into the hands of students will unleash the next generation of entrepreneurs and demonstrate, in a very tangible way, that education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects is not only interesting, but incredibly fun as well.   Letting students “feel” their digital models, through haptic touch enabled devices, and then letting them “print” actual physical representations of those creations will unlock imaginations and unleash creativity.

We are in very exciting times – I can’t wait to see what my 9 and 10 year olds will design and produce next!