So, dear reader, you thought it was enough to know federal and state laws governing advertising? Think again. Municipalities and other local governing bodies also can, and do, regulate advertising practices and some of those bodies are active in enforcing them, like New York City.
This case involves a Queens lawyer who put up billboards advertising his law practice on buildings he owned through corporate entities throughout New York City. He did not obtain a permit from the Department of Buildings for the billboards as is required under New York City Administrative Code for building owners operating as an outdoor advertising company ("OAC"). And, had he directly owned the buildings, he would not have needed one because he was advertising his own business, not operating as an OAC. However, because he owned the buildings through corporate entities, he did need a permit as an OAC, and since he didn't get one, he is now liable for close to $400,000 in fines. A panel of New York's Appellate Division upheld the fines imposed by the NYC Environmental Control Board.
This case underscores the need to ensure that your advertising activities in public spaces -- whether billboards, events, sampling or otherwise -- comply with local rules and regulations, some of which may be very particular.
Bonus commentary about lawyer advertising from my ethics colleague Tyler Maulsby: This case also raises issues about the rules governing attorney advertising which vary from state-to-state. For instance, the New York Rules of Professional Conduct place a host of restrictions on attorney advertising including what an ad may and may not say and how it may be distributed. This includes a requirement that the ad include the attorney’s name, principal law office address and telephone number. Anyone seeking to advertise legal services should also make sure the ads comply with the relevant ethics rules. In other words, when it comes to attorney advertising (especially outdoors), all advertising is local!
A panel of the Appellate Division, First Department on Thursday okayed fines imposed on attorney John Ciafone under the billboard law on a 3-2 vote, holding that the corporate ownership made a difference.