Quadcopter drone
Quadcopter drones, which take flight thanks to four rotating propellers, lead the consumer drone industry. Here, a photographer takes a picture of the Wi-Fi-controlled "AR. Drone" helicopter by Parrot, a wireless device company based in Paris. Reuters/Steve Marcus

The U.S. government wants to know who's flying drones. Anyone with a remote-controlled aircraft weighing between 9 ounces and 50 pounds must register the unmanned aerial vehicle no later than Feb. 19, according to rules issued Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Registration will be free for the first 30 days, starting Dec. 21; after that it will cost $5. Owners will need to enter their name, address and email address with the FAA, a suggestion that was first made last month by a task force of pilots, hobbyists, retailers and drone manufacturers. Each unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) must also be marked with a unique number meant to track down an operator if the drone collides with an aircraft or violates another prohibition.

The registration site will be available at www.FAA.gov/UAS/registration.

“My message to unmanned aircraft operators is pretty simple: It is in your best interest to register early,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “We are excited to bring these new users into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American aviation.”

The announcement comes after the FAA said it receives roughly 100 reports every month from commercial airline pilots who can see drones from the cockpit. The FAA already encourages drone pilots to fly below 400 feet, keep the aircraft within their line of sight, don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport, avoid manned aircraft operations and don’t fly a UAV weighing more than 55 pounds.

The registration rules also coincide with holiday shopping season. The FAA previously estimated that 1 million drones will be sold in the weeks before Christmas.

Civil penalties for anyone who fails to register can include a fine of up to $27,500. Criminal penalties for anyone who breaks a law with an unregistered drone total up to $250,000 and three years in prison. Michael Whitaker, FAA deputy administrator, told USA Today the primary focus will be to enter drone owners into the system rather than doling out fines.

“Our real challenge is to get them to understand the rules and get them to comply,” he said. “The goal is not to be punitive, but to get people into compliance with the regulations.”