The Legal Side of Video Production for Travel Influencers

Chase Clements

Chase is a copywriter at Soundstripe, a royalty-free music company that provides filmmakers with royalty-free rock music, among other genres.

Being a travel influencer has its perks. You get to explore amazing locations and experience different cultures, all while creating exciting content. 

Not to mention, brands are allocating more of their marketing budget to influencer marketing now than ever before. (In fact, the industry is slated to reach $15 billion by 2022.)

It’s evident that there’s a growing demand for travel influencers — but what’s the reason for this upward trend? 

Well, according to this study, 90% of people cite influencer marketing as a highly effective way for brands to market their products and services.

Micro-influencers, in particular, are known for building dedicated social media followings and delivering a good ROI in branded campaigns. And this is because an influencer’s followers value their advice on places to visit and products to purchase.

As a travel influencer, you put in a lot of work to plan and film travel content for social media videos. But there’s a legal side to video production that’s important to be aware of to avoid getting into trouble. 

The experience of vlogging itself should be fun and free of headaches. That’s why it’s better to educate yourself on legal issues in advance and be prepared. 

That way you can be present in the moment while filming and know that you’re protected. 

Let’s discuss three important legal topics to keep in mind on your next expedition: drone regulations, location permissions, and music licensing.

Drone Regulation for Travel Blogging

Drone footage can take your content to the next level, especially if you’re heading to some scenic locales. But using equipment considered to be “aircraft” by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is going to come with some restrictions. 

Here’s the legal need-to-know before you fly. 

Let’s start with national regulations. The FAA divides drone use into two categories: recreational and commercial. 

Recreational Usage

If you’re planning to monetize the footage you take with your drone, this counts as commercial use. That means you need to get licensed as a certified drone operator first, which involves a free in-person knowledge test. The license itself is free, but you will also need to register your drone with the FAA, which only costs $5 per drone and lasts 3 years. See the full FAA guidelines here.

Once you’ve acquired your license and registered your drone, you’ll want to look into the guidelines on where you can fly. No-fly zones include near airports, near sports stadiums within an hour of a game, the airspace over Washington DC, and unfortunately, all national parks. A helpful tool is the FAA’s B4UFLY app, which gives you real-time updates on restricted zones.

Commercial Usage

You’ll also want to reference the guidelines for commercial use. These include not exceeding 400 feet above the ground, though as a commercial operator you can exceed 400 feet, as long as you’re within 400 feet of the nearest structure, like a building. 

Other guidelines include not flying over people, crowds, or moving vehicles, not flying beyond your line of sight, and not operating from a moving vehicle. 

As a commercial pilot, you are only allowed to operate during daylight, unless you get a waiver from the FAA. However, it looks like the FAA has plans to loosen this restriction, though as of now, it hasn’t been made official. A good rule of thumb is to always check state and local guidelines before drone use. That way if you’re ever questioned, you’ll be prepared with the correct information. 

The same goes for international use. Some countries have more lenient drone policies than others. Resources like this that compile national and international drone laws in one place can be helpful, though you always want to check local websites directly, as rules change frequently. 

And if you’re taking your drone on a plane, it’s always important to check the policy of the airline you’re flying with and the countries you’re traveling to and from.

Location Permissions Best Practices for Travel Influencers 

Getting permission to film in certain locations is something many vloggers avoid thinking about, but it’s always better to err on the safe side. 

Check Local Guidelines 

If it’s just you and a camera, you shouldn’t run into much trouble filming in public places and private places that are open to the public, like restaurants and tourist sites. Just make sure to respect the privacy of those around you.

But in some cases, you may need permission to film in public locations, like local landmarks. Again, it’s important to check the local guidelines before you go.

If you have a crew with you—even just a few people—it’s more likely that you will need paperwork to film in public. This could include a film permit, which you can apply for through the local film office. 

Get a Location Release Form When Needed

If you’re filming on private property, even a restaurant, it’s always a good idea to get a location release signed by the owner. You can use that template, or work with a lawyer to draft one that suits your needs. While it may not always be necessary, it’s always better to have the paperwork so you never have to worry about being fined for not getting permission later.

Until recently, anyone filming in National Parks for commercial purposes needed to pay a hefty price for a permit, but that has changed. A federal court ruled in favor of an indie filmmaker who sued the attorney general after being fined for shooting in a national park without a permit. 

This means that vloggers no longer need permits to film in National Parks. If you have a larger crew, it’s probably still a good idea to get permission. And it might also be a good idea to reference this copy of the official ruling just in case. 

And of course, there may be places you’re not allowed to film in altogether, like inside a government building, church, or court, but always ask or check local guidelines, as rules differ.

Music Licensing in Influencer Marketing

High-quality music is a surefire way to take your content to the next level. There’s nothing like some sweet shots of an exotic locale paired with a killer soundtrack.

But going through the process of clearing songs from your favorite artists is often a difficult process

Make Sure to Get the Proper Permission

If you’re planning to publish your content online, avoid using songs without getting the proper permission. Using a copyrighted song without the rights can get you into trouble quickly. 

On YouTube, their Content ID algorithm scans the entirety of YouTube for copyrighted material, then alerts the copyright holder of any violations. The rights holder can then have your video removed.

Every time that happens you get a strike, and after three strikes, they take your channel down. If you’re getting a lot of views, this also could mean getting sued for a hefty amount.

Instagram has a similar policy and detection algorithm and will mute your video if they detect a copyright violation. 

According to their guidelines, using shorter clips of music makes them less likely to be taken down. But it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when there are great alternatives to using copyrighted music. 

Partner with Local or Emerging Artists

Try tracking down local or up-and-coming artists and work out a deal with them directly. This can be a win-win, as you get quality music for your content and the artist gets free exposure.

Use Royalty-Free Music Databases

You can also use royalty-free music databases, which provide access to music from great artists at an affordable price. You’ll be able to access a portfolio of high-quality music that you can search by genre and mood, and never have to worry about legal issues.

Protect Your Content, Team, and Clients With These Measures

For travel influencers, the main priority has been — and will always be — investing in video production gear that is lightweight, versatile, and easily transported from one place to the next. 

And, from a purely practical standpoint, this makes complete sense. 

As an influencer in this niche, the gear you use and the processes you define for content creation will either help or hinder video production.

If you’re working with equipment that is too bulky or difficult to operate, you’re at an immediate disadvantage during production. And this is true even if you went through all of the necessary legal steps to protect your project.

Sometimes, all you need to create an engaging travel video is a smartphone, an app like FiLMiC Pro, and filming tech that allows for easy setup. 

Looking Forward

Especially with deadlines to contend with, it’s important to have the right protocol set in place for planning, filming, and sharing content on social media platforms. 

That way, you can transition easily from one project to the next — whether working alone, with brands, or with clients. 

As we’ve seen, the production process can have its complications, especially if you’re not careful. But hopefully, with this guide and a little bit of due diligence, you’ll be able to avoid legal issues so you can stay focused on the fun part — creating.

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