A blog about business and economics.

Dec. 11 2014 6:32 PM

SeaWorld’s Whales Get a New Prison Warden

SeaWorld, which has seen its park attendance and stock price tumble amid backlash over the treatment of its killer whales, announced today that CEO Jim Atchison was stepping down and would be temporarily replaced by the company's chairman while it looked for a successor. The Orlando Sentinel reports that a "spokesman would not say whether Atchison's decision was voluntary." But, as The Dodo notes, the change comes at a moment when the company's share price has hit fresh lows since its IPO last year. Overall, the stock is down more than 40 percent since August.



Now, my guess is that picking a new prison warden for its orcas isn't going to help SeaWorld reverse the public's growing antipathy toward keeping massive, highly intelligent, and active mammals locked in an aquarium. But hey, you never know.

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Dec. 11 2014 5:43 PM

Oil Fell Below $60 a Barrel Today. So Which Countries Are in Trouble?

How 'bout them oil prices, huh? Crude continued its long slide today, with the U.S. benchmark price dipping below $60 a barrel for the first time since July 2009, when the country was just fresh off the recession. The cause? Well, OPEC cut its estimate for how much oil the world will need next year, and Saudi Arabia, the cartel's most powerful member, reiterated that it had absolutely zero plans to cut production, which would theoretically take some of those excess fossil fuels off the market and push prices back up.

“Why should I cut production?” Ali al-Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, told reporters yesterday. “This is a market and I’m selling in a market. Why should I cut?”

Nami's quip is more than a delightfully dismissive retort to the question on the mind of just about every global oil executive (who would all surely love it if the Saudis cut back, you know, just a bit). It's also a nice reminder that some countries stand to suffer a lot more in this oil market route than others—and the Saudis, by most standards, have just about nothing to fear. So, I thought this would be a good moment for quick review of the winners and losers.

There are at least three numbers that you have to remember when we talk about whether falling oil prices are a problem for a country:

  • The fiscal breakeven: The oil price necessary for a government to avoid running a budget deficit.
  • The accounting breakeven (or what most people just call the "breakeven"): The oil price necessary for an oil drilling project to be profitable
  • The cash cost: The oil price necessary for drillers to keep their pre-existing projects operating.

First stop: fiscal math. For countries like the United States that don't generate a great deal of tax revenue from oil production, falling prices are generally good economic news, since cheaper fuel puts more money in consumer profits. But for the oil dependent nations of OPEC, cheap crude is a budget nightmare. And, as Deutsche Bank pointed out in an October analysis, oil producers like Russia, Venezuela, and Nigeria all need prices above $100 a book to balance their books. Even Saudi Arabia needs around $99 to support its spending.

But deficits are a bigger problem for some countries than others. Thanks to their massive dollar reserves, the Saudis can afford to overspend for a while. Russia, too, has a little bit of a cushion. Countries like Nigeria that barely have any reserves are in far greater trouble.

Now let's forget government for a while. What about the basic price necessary just to keep oil projects profitable? That number varies enormously across the globe, and it incorporates expenses including the cost of oil exploration, building rigs, drilling, daily production, and marketing, among other bits. It's much more costly to go hunt for oil in the frozen arctic deep, or to use techniques like fracking and horizontal drilling to extract oil out of U.S. shale deposits, than it its to pump conventional oil straight out of the Arabian desert. As this graph from Morgan Stanley (posted by Business Insider) nicely illustrates, the Middle East indeed has the lowest breakeven prices—generally falling well beneath the $40-a-barrel mark. The number can be far higher in other parts of the world, such as Russia, or in America's shale basins.


Morgan Stanley

The breakeven price is especially important in the United States, because the unconventional wells that have fueled our domestic oil boom deplete quickly, meaning that companies need to keep drilling new ones to keep production up. If it's suddenly not profitable to do so, then we should expect the flow of crude to taper off (as I wrote last week, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing). This is one reason that many analysts think, rightly or wrongly, that the Saudis are essentially waging a war of attrition to drive down U.S. production and preserve their market share.

But even if a pre-existing well stops being profitable based on the cost it took to find and drill, that doesn't mean Exxon or Shell will suddenly shut it down. No, the price to keep your eye on at which oil companies will suddenly start pulling the plug on projects that are already operating is known as the "cash cost"—the bare amount of money necessary to cover daily production, taxes, and marketing. And that figure can be quite low, as shown in this graph from Morgan Stanley. The green tracks the cost including royalties paid to the government, whereas the blue is raw production expense.


Morgan Stanley

The cash cost for most oil is still far below the $50 a barrel mark. But again, Saudi Arabia has some of the lowest costs of all. In some countries, including Venezuela, the magic price for keeping the lights on is in the $35-to-$40-per-barrel range. And some market watchers think its conceivable oil will indeed fall that low. So, why should Saudi Arabia cut production? Only if it wants to make sure Venezuela doesn't implode, I suppose. But in pretty much any scenario, the Kingdom will be just fine.

Dec. 11 2014 5:29 PM

Best Buy Tweets Moderately Funny Joke About Serial. Internet Outrage Ensues.

So tweeted Best Buy a bit before 4 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, to the simultaneous delight and outrage of the Internet. (While I was writing this post, the tweet was taken down, and Best Buy issued an apology.) In case you haven't been listening to Serial, the hit spinoff of This American Life about the murder of teenager Hae Min Lee, that joke is somewhat funny because a pay phone in the parking lot of a Maryland Best Buy plays a crucial role in the state's case against its suspect. According to the state, Adnan Syed placed a call for a ride to a friend from that pay phone shortly after he allegedly murdered Lee. The question Serial has been trying to answer: Is there evidence that pay phone existed?

You see Best Buy's joke—it can offer everything you need, except a pay phone. Serial's massive popularity, according to a story published Wednesday in the Huffington Post, has apparently turned the site of that question into something of a fan/tourist destination. "So many people have inquired about the phone that the general manager of the store, who hadn't heard of Serial until people started coming in to ask about it, has started listening," the Huffington Post reports. Clearly Best Buy has already been getting increased attention from the podcast. So why has its decision to capitalize on that attention spurred a wave of Internet outrage?

The short answer is that corporate jokes about Serial rub people wrong. Serial, after all, is a podcast about a real murder, and a subject that sensitive is generally not great fodder for a marketing push. People don't like to think of companies as exploiting someone's death for their own gain. On the other hand, Best Buy is not the first company or brand to attempt this kind of marketing spin. In late November, Cheerios decided to make the cereal/Serial joke on Twitter, tweeting, "Discovering the truth can be tough when you're hungry." (That tweet has also since been taken down.) This week, Sesame Street tweeted in anticipation of Serial's next episode: "Is it Thursday yet? Bert is so excited for his Thursday morning CEREAL."

Why is it OK for Sesame Street—a children's show, for goodness' sake—to make this kind of jest, but not Best Buy? Well, even though Sesame Street is a business, it's also a nonprofit with plenty of accrued good faith and a long history of engaging in cultural commentary. Best Buy is a big company that sells electronics and exists to make money. So: When Sesame Street makes this sort of joke it has a pass for creative license and snark that Best Buy just doesn't get. It probably doesn't matter what Best Buy says about Serial. As long as it appears to be using an element of the show for its own monetary gain, people are bound to get annoyed.

Whether this attitude is fair is a potentially endless discussion, but I'd suggest that it's not. Here's why. Yes, it's true that Serial is a journalistic enterprise about a real, serious event. It's also true that, on some level, it feels wrong for a brand to exploit that. But at this point in the series, Serial is much more than a journalism project. It is a cultural phenomenon. The show's episodes have been downloaded and streamed more than 5 million times.* Thousands are parsing the details of its case on Reddit. People aren't just listening to Serial because it's important and weighty and informative—they're listening to Serial because it's entertaining. I think we all agree that pop culture and entertainment are fair game for brands to market on. If we accept that Serial has crossed into that territory, it seems hypocritical to treat it as strictly off-limits.

*Correction, Dec. 15, 2014: This post originally misstated that 5 million people have downloaded and streamed episodes of Serial. The show has multiple episodes, which have been downloaded and streamed more than 5 million times combined.

Dec. 11 2014 1:28 PM

NLRB Judge Rules That Walmart Manager Cannot Legally Threaten to “Shoot the Union”

Yep, you read that right. In a decision issued on Tuesday, an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Walmart managers in California had illegally punished their employees for striking and had also illegally intimidated those employees with choice phrases like, “If it were up to me, I’d shoot the union.”

In his decision, NLRB Judge Geoffrey Carter found Walmart in violation of the National Labor Relations Act for implicitly and explicitly threatening Walmart employees, “selectively and disparately” enforcing its dress code so as to target union supporters, telling employees that bargaining-related activities were futile, and punishing employees for participating in a strike. Regarding the “shoot the union” statement, Carter wrote that, contrary to Walmart's argument, the comment “cannot be excused as a mere statement of opinion, a flip or intemperate remark, or hyperbole that no reasonable employee could have taken seriously.”

The complaints in the Walmart case were brought by Our Walmart, a labor group but not a union that recently coordinated the nationwide protests against Walmart stores on Black Friday. Walmart said in a statement that it does “not agree with some of the administrative law judge's conclusions,” and plans to appeal parts of the ruling to the full labor board. But for now, a Walmart notice to employees appended to the NLRB ruling advises the following: “WE WILL NOT threaten Richmond, California store associates that we will ‘shoot the union.’” Good call.

Dec. 11 2014 11:04 AM

Actually, We Need More Harvard Professors Who Would Call Out Overcharges at a Restaurant

Before this week, Ben Edelman was best known as an up-and-coming professor at Harvard Business School. He has economics and law degrees. He writes both for academics and for a popular audience outside the ivory tower. And he offers a successful course on the online economy. As of this Tuesday, though, you probably know him for something less illustrious: He’s the guy who got in a heated spat with a Chinese restaurant over a $4 overcharge.

As an academic who researches in Edelman’s field of digital business and interacts with him regularly, I wasn’t surprised when Boston.com published a set of emails in which he had taken an employee of the restaurant Sichuan Garden to task and asked for a triple refund, according to his understanding of Massachusetts law. In some sense, Edelman takes everyone to task and encourages others—myself included—to do the same. And that’s a quality we should admire in academics.

In my interactions with Edelman, I’ve found myself both frustrated by his choices and impressed by his gumption. In an era in which there is heretofore-unmatched pressure to publish in the best journals with the most technical methodologies and to not otherwise make waves, Edelman doesn’t play by the rules. His papers are provocative. Rather than, say, advising Google on improving their market design, he’s highlighted carefully tended evidence that the company seems to be manipulating search rankings. While journalists are now portraying him as an entitled elite, I’ve always considered him a maverick. He reminds me of someone like the late activist Aaron Swartz, acting fearlessly and, often, selflessly. It is inspirational in many ways.

So when I saw the Boston.com article—not to mention two posts on Slate—go viral, I was dismayed at the broader message it was sending.

First, it’s important to realize that Edelman’s complaint and lengthy email exchange were private. He didn’t forward it to Boston.com; that was the restaurant. As it appears that business may have broken the law by charging more than advertised prices without letting customers know, Edelman could be forgiven for being surprised. More importantly, he didn’t use his Harvard affiliation in any form in that exchange. Not even his email. But Boston.com and all of the other headlines played up the Harvard association. Why? Because portraying Edelman as an Ivy League bully guaranteed clicks.

Second, Edelman doesn’t have tenure. I’ve seen untenured professors get bad publicity—both fairly and unfairly—and it can have the effect of harming their chances. Harvard Business School junior faculty have a very tough run, and most drop off before they get to the promised land of tenure. The system says that they should, therefore, play it safe. And that makes academia a less daring place. 

In Edelman’s case, the passion that makes his research on unsavory and hidden practices by online firms compelling bled into a dispute over takeout; as the articles exploded on Twitter and Facebook, he wrote Wednesday that he is genuinely sorry for how this turned out. But who among us hasn’t had some sort of heated customer service argument at some time? We should be concerned when the defense the business uses is to forward an email exchange to the press. It means that semipublic figures who are more vulnerable to bad press cannot even operate within the bounds of normal life. And it means, in this case, that we’re chastising an academic for qualities we should hope to see more of in academic life.

In Edelman’s exchange with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden, you can see his maverick side at work. He knows this isn’t personally a big deal, but he also knows he’s complaining about the same thing he tries to hold big businesses accountable for. And if no one calls them out, the law is meaningless. Put simply, things that hurt lots of people a little bit are socially damaging, but it’s hard to initiate action against them. It is death by a thousand little cuts.

I want our Harvard professors to be more like Ben Edelman and take up causes that are controversial but that they are passionate about. The moment we let them be punished disproportionately for these traits, conformity wins. 

Dec. 10 2014 4:11 PM

Uber, Facing New Lawsuits in San Francisco and L.A., Has “Not Been Cooperative”

Uber's list of roadblocks got longer on Tuesday when the district attorneys for San Francisco and Los Angeles said they had sued it and fellow car service Lyft for misleading consumers on multiple counts.

The charges against Uber include that it claimed, wrongly, to conduct "industry leading" background checks on drivers, collected a $1 "Safe Rides Fee" from customers related to those checks, and operated illegally at airports in California. Lyft was hit with similar claims and agreed to settle for $500,000. Uber, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said, has "not been cooperative." (Uber is also currently facing a lawsuit in Portland, Oregon, was banned in Spain and Thailand on Tuesday, and was kicked out of New Delhi over the weekend.)

The most interesting point in all of this, as Mike Isaac notes over at the New York Times, is that services like Uber and Lyft have heavily promoted their background checks as "often more rigorous" than those done by taxis, while simultaneously fighting legislation that would make sure background checks for on-demand ride services were held to the same standard as those done by the taxi industry:

In Colorado, Uber spent about $60,000 on lobbyists to support legislation that in June made the state one of the first to legalize companies like Uber and Lyft. That law does not require such drivers to undergo the same strict fingerprint checks required of taxi and limousine drivers.
In May, Illinois legislators passed two bills, supported by the taxi industry, that more heavily regulated ride-sharing services, including requiring state-conducted background checks for drivers.
After the bills were passed, Uber hired lobbyists, including Jack Lavin, the former chief of staff of Governor Quinn. In August, the governor vetoed the bills, saying the industry "is best regulated at the local level."

And in California, the home of the latest lawsuits, Isaac reports that Uber has spent more than $650,000 to lobby on transportation issues. A bill that would have required Uber and its peers to put their drivers through the same screenings and checks that taxi drivers undergo has since died.

Dec. 10 2014 11:04 AM

That Harvard Professor Who Raged Out at a Chinese Restaurant? He May Have Gotten the Law Wrong, Too.

Last night, I highlighted a Boston.com story about a Harvard Business School professor, Ben Edelman, who apparently decided to terrorize a local Chinese restaurant after discovering he had been overcharged $4 for takeout. The guy was obviously a jerk.1 But it turns out, he was probably wrong about the law, too.

A brief recap: Edelman, who has a J.D. from Harvard and is a member of the Massachusetts bar, according to his website, emailed the proprietors of Sichuan Garden to complain after he noticed that every dish he ordered turned out to be about a dollar more expensive than advertised on the website. The restaurant apologized, said that the online menu was out of date and that they would fix it. At that point, things escalated.


Edelman is invoking the concept of "treble damages," which awards victims who bring winning lawsuits three times whatever money they lost due to the defendant's misbehavior ("treble" is just British-speak for "triple."). It often comes up in antitrust, patent, and consumer-protection cases, and is meant to punish bad actors while discouraging them from repeating any illegal activity in the future. Bilking your customers is less appealing if you know you'll have to pay through the nose should you get caught.

But as Georgetown University law professor Adam Levitin wrote last night, Edelman is probably invoking the principle incorrectly. Conveniently, Levitin teaches the statute that Edelman cites, MGL 93a, in one of his classes. First, he notes that the law doesn't actually require treble damages. Instead, a judge can choose to award them in cases where the defendant committed a "willful or knowing violation" or "if the defendant refused in bad faith to settle." (Also, there's technically a $25 minimum for any and all damages.) The thing is, Sichuan Garden very quickly offered to refund Edelman what he'd been overcharged. According to Levitin, that should have put them in the clear:

MGL 93a(9)(3) requires that before bringing suit the plaintiff send a demand letter to the business asking for rectification of the unfair or deceptive act or practice. That gives the business a chance to settle things for something like actual damages. The whole purpose of the demand provision is to encourage settlement and to act as a control on damages.  (Refusal to parlay is one of the hooks that can result in treble damages.)  
If the defendant's offer of settlement is rejected by the plaintiff, the defendant can introduce its offer (and its reasonableness) at trial.  Here, the restaurant offered the professor a full refund of the overcharge in response to his email (which is fairly understood as a demand letter). Thus, in a lawsuit, if the defendant made a reasonable settlement offer, the court must limit damages not to the $25 minimum, but to the restraurant's reasonable offer. See Kohl v. Silver Lake Motors, Inc., 369 Mass. 795 (Mass. 1976). I don't see how the professor gets to treble damages here. 

It's fun to play gotcha with an unnaturally pissed off Harvard prof, but there's actually a bigger point here. Yesterday, a few #Slatepitchy souls argued that, despite his dislikable approach, we should applaud Edelman for standing up against a restaurant that was, in some small way, cheating consumers. But whatever good he did was outweighed by his personal comportment. Lawyers have a lot of power in that they understand how to work the legal system and don't need to pay anybody to write up a lawsuit on their behalf. And that power can very easily be abused, because it can still be expensive and time-consuming to defend against a crap case. Yesterday, I mentioned the notorious example of former administrative judge Roy Pearson, who sued a Washington, D.C., dry cleaner for $67 million after losing his pants. Ridiculous? Of course. But Pearson pushed his case all the way to a trial (where, thankfully, he lost).

Thankfully, Edelman hasn't done anything nearly that rash—he told Boston.com he simply contacted local authorities and was contemplating further action. But even shaking down a Chinese joint for $12 based on a bad reading of the law is, in a small way, abusive. Again, here's Levitin:

Indeed, just reading the statute carefully ought to have given the professor some pause. While he makes a big deal in one of the emails about being ethically bound to deal only with an attorney if the restaurant is represented by counsel, it strikes me as a possible ethical problem to be mng demands (particularly on an unrepresented party) for which one lacks a legal basis. I don't think negligent belief about the law helps the professor here.

Update, Dec. 10, 2014, 5:19 p.m: 

Edelman has posted an unequivocal apology on his personal blog. It reads:

Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline.
Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it’s clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future.
I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well.

Credit to Edelman, who was still defending his emails yesterday, for rethinking things. The Internet has done its job for the day.  

Footnote1: It seems some readers took me seriously when I suggested that we should "applaud" Edelman and urged him to "fight the power." I thought that alluding to Public Enemy was an obvious joke. My apologies to the confused.

Dec. 9 2014 6:40 PM

Watch This Harvard Prof Totally Own a Small Chinese Restaurant That Overcharged Him $4 for Takeout

It is a fact widely acknowledged in the legal profession that it is basically pointless going to law school unless you later use your hard-won knowledge to terrorize a small family-owned business over a minor customer-service transgression. So we at Slate can only cheer on Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman, a man in possession of both a Ph.D. and J.D. from the university at which he now teaches, for his firm but thoroughly fair response to the proprietors of a local chinese restaurant, Sichuan Garden, after he discovered it had overcharged him $4 for takeout. I mean, who among us wouldn't invoke the concept of treble damages and contact the consumer-protection autorities after learning that we'd ordered from a slightly out-of-date menu?  

As first reported by Boston.com, Edelman exchanged emails with Ran Duan, whose parents founded Sichuan Garden, and who runs the Baldwin Bar inside one of its locations. GQ may have dubbed Duan "America's most imaginative bartender." But he apparently lacks the imagination to avoid getting owned in this exchange. I mean, just look for yourself.


According to Boston.com, Edelman "alerted town officials in Brookline about the matter, but told Boston.com he doesn’t expect them to take action. He plans to 'take a few days' before deciding whether to pursue any further legal action against the restaurant." Should he choose to, Edelman will no doubt join former Judge Roy Pearson of "pants lawsuit" fame in the ranks of great consumer advocates. Fight the power, professor. Fight the power.

Update, Dec. 10, 2014, 5:19 p.m: 

Edelman has posted an unequivocal apology on his personal blog. It reads:

Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline.
Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it’s clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future.
I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well.

Credit to Edelman, who was still defending his emails yesterday, for rethinking things. The Internet has done its job for the day. 

Dec. 9 2014 5:36 PM

Supreme Court Decides Amazon Workers Don’t Need to Be Paid While Waiting for Mandatory Security Screenings

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court handed a big win to Amazon and companies like it. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that businesses should not be required to pay workers at warehouses for the time they wait to go through mandatory security screenings at the end of the day. Workers might wait in line for five minutes to go through a routine anti-theft screening or they might wait 25 minutes; regardless, the employer does not need to compensate them for that time.

The ruling hinged on the justices' interpretation of the Portal-to-Portal Act, a 1947 law that says companies do not need to compensate workers for "preliminary" or "postliminary" activities. A main goal of the Portal-to-Portal Act was to exclude workers' commutes from the time companies were required to compensate, as well as other activities that were not related to the "principal" job. In the case decided Tuesday, which involved a temp agency that has contracted workers to Amazon's warehouses, the court said security screenings were not "integral and indispensable" to the workers' jobs, and therefore not required to get extra pay.

As I wrote in Slate in October, this case is one where the law and the basic economic logic seem to be somewhat at odds. Because many companies with warehouse facilities like Amazon require these security checks, the workers have no option but to comply with them. With commuting—one of the main pay exceptions under the Portal-to-Portal Act—workers can exercise some control over the time investment by deciding where they live relative to their job. The time a security screening takes, on the other hand, is entirely up to the employer. Employees just have to wait.

So here's the problem: When employers aren't required to pay employees for the time they spend waiting for those security checks, they have no incentive to make them more efficient. It doesn't weigh on their books if workers stand around for 25 minutes instead of five. Why should they bother to improve the process? If you're Amazon, the calculated risk up until now has probably been that you shouldn't. And with this decision, the Supreme Court has all but assured that companies won't be bothering to make changes any time soon, either.

Dec. 9 2014 3:54 PM

Attack of the Drones

This article originally appeared in Inc.

The holiday season is game time for businesses—hitting your targets before the close of the year is crucial. With that in mind, TGI Fridays launched its "Mobile Mistletoe" Christmas promotion, in which a small drone flew through the restaurant with a sprig of mistletoe to encourage diners to kiss. 

The promotion indeed had an impact. Quite literally. And not in a good way.

On Dec. 4, a drone at the chain's Brooklyn, New York, location hit a local photographer in the face, resulting in minor injuries, Brooklyn Daily reported. The event was going just fine until the restaurant's drone operator tried to pull off a trick.

According to the outlet, David Quiones tried to land one of the quadcopters—a mini helicopter with four sets of rotors—on a Brooklyn reporter's hand. Unfortunately, the aerial theatrics spun out of control after the reporter flinched and the drone hit the photographer, who was standing close by. The drone propellers cut the photographer's nose and chin, drawing a few drops of blood.

"It literally chipped off a tip of my nose," Brooklyn Daily photographer Georgine Benvenuto told her paper.

The "drone strike," as the paper called the incident, will not deter the restaurant chain from continuing its holiday stunt. TGI Fridays' spokeswoman Frances Karkosak told the paper that its Mobile Mistletoe events in Long Island and Texas went off without any emergency landings. The accident in Brooklyn used a small 10-inch drone while other events are using a larger, 23-inch drone with six rotors.

"We do not let consumers touch it," Karkosak said.

The business lesson here? No matter what your holiday stunt is, make sure you have full control over the proceedings and can keep everyone safe. In case you're considering including drones, be aware that they need to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial use. For safety, make sure you read the FAA's dos and don'ts for unmanned aerial vehicles. As a rule of thumb, drones should not be flown near people, above urban airspace, or within five miles of an airport. 

Drone technology can lead to great innovations, or, occasionally, terrible consequences. In September 2013, a 19-year-old Brooklyn man was killed after his model helicopter spun out of control and struck him in the head. On a lighter note, drones have been known to cause minor mishaps, including hitting this newlywed couple during a photo shoot: