Regulating Billboards: Two Cases You Should Know

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This is a guest post by Jason D. King, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and Marketing, Clear Channel Outdoor.

U.S. Courts are currently considering challenges to the longstanding laws that have protected communities — potentially to the detriment of communities and the Out of Home (OOH) advertising industry.

It all stems from a case that went before the Supreme Court in 2015, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, in which the Supreme Court tossed out the sign ordinance from the Town of Gilbert, Arizona, that restricted the right of a local pastor to post religious signs. The court said that the Town of Gilbert’s sign code was constitutionally flawed, because it treated the pastor’s church signs differently than other temporary signs based on content.

The Reed case spawned a wide range of free speech challenges, including lawsuits against billboard controls. Some local ordinances have been challenged by sign companies.

One such recent case is taking place in Tennessee. Citing the Reed decision, a federal judge in Memphis invalidated Tennessee’s billboard-control law, which mirrors the federal Highway Beautification Act of 1965 — regulating size, lighting, and spacing. And now this case, Thomas v. Schroer, is headed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a four-state jurisdiction based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Because of the importance of this case, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) filed an amicus brief in the Tennessee case to support the state, in conjunction with state-level outdoor advertising associations in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee (states comprising the U.S. Sixth Circuit).

For years, the OOH industry has supported communities using its media to communicate public service messages that help improve lives. Sometimes this has meant donating inventory like billboards on highways and busy city intersections and posters at bus stations to provide valuable information to municipalities; promoting an important local cause; or using our latest technological innovations like digital technology to quickly deliver emergency messages via smart billboards.

Another thing that has been constant over the years — whether it’s with groups safeguarding the scenic-interests of their communities, regulators or members of the OAAA, the industry’s national trade group, — is that no stakeholder supports unregulated chaos when it comes to billboards. We all agree that billboards and our other assets are big and highly visible, and we all agree that they have their place.

In fact, the OAAA has gone to court to protect the longstanding right of local communities to the reasonable regulation of billboards. For decades, our industry has worked with local communities and regulators to abide by highway beautification acts and other regulations to protect and enhance the quality of life. These include things like:

  • Size
  • Location
  • Lighted and unlighted
  • Printed messages and electronic signs
  • Signs on public property and on private property
  • Signs on commercial property and on residential property
  • On-premises and off-premises signs

We believe that when the dust settles, the reasonable regulation of billboards will be sustained. Out of Home advertising, and the reasonable regulation of our industry through acts like the Highway Beautification Act, have been held to be consistent with the First Amendment for decades, and we think the continued protection of our local communities is worth the fight.

Jason_King_Close_Up_No_Tie_APRIL_2016.jpgAbout the Author: Jason D. King is senior vice president of corporate communications and marketing at Clear Channel Outdoor.