Digital Signage Part III: Potential Legal Issues
The proverb asserting that the more things change, the more they stay the same, always seems true when one thinks about potential legal issues from new technologies.
Digital signs are still signs, and placement of signs – especially billboards – has long been an issue receiving the attention of local governments. If those signs are emitting light and displaying motion, there may be even greater concern about their placement and their potential nuisance value. The Federal Highway Administration allowed digital billboards in 2007, concluding that they did not pose a danger to drivers. However, the FHWA has been studying the research and working on a report, which is anticipated this year, focusing on whether or not electronic billboards can be a dangerous distraction for drivers because they are so much more dramatic than conventional billboards. Furthermore, as digital signs proliferate, they will likely be scrutinized more closely under federal, state and local historic preservation and environmental impact laws.
Digital Signage Part 1: What is a Digital Sign?
According to the humorist Robert Benchley “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.” Borrowing from Mr. Benchley, there are two kinds of people in the world – those who know about digital signage and those who don’t. Today, the latter is probably the larger group, but the former is a fast growing group. Because digital signs have already started to impact every organization and location where people gather, there is good reason to join the group of those who know about digital signage.
What comes to mind in response to the word “sign”? Something along the side of a road that conveys meaningful information? Something you look for along that road when you are low on gas? Something to let you know that you have arrived at your destination without running out of gas? The word “open” in glowing neon light at that destination?
Many signs have remained unchanged for decades. However, because of a variety of technological advances, such as digital signal transmission, high-speed high-volume broadband, flat-screen displays, QR codes and near field communications (transmitting information wirelessly over very short distances such as by touching smartphones) the concept of a sign has changed dramatically over the past decade. What once was static can now be dynamic and can take many very different forms.
A common term for modern signs is “digital sign” or “digital signage.” There is no single recognized definition of this term right now. However, a digital sign is something you know when you see it because it is different from what you are used to seeing. The Digital Place-based Advertising Association has adopted the following definition: “a display device that has the ability to display dynamic advertising and replaced static billboards and posters.” Note the use of the term “display device” to suggest some piece of hardware. Note the use of the term “dynamic” contrasted with “static”. Given the highly specialized mission of this particular association, note also the reference to advertising; however, there is no reason why a digital sign cannot convey non-advertising messages as well.
Greg Duff founded and chairs Foster Garvey’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.