So you’re an entertainment lawyer with a client who is big. Like really big. Like so huge that the star team decides a sizable and suitable way to promote this celebrity is to go wall-sized. Billboard large. As is happening in downtown Los Angeles, the Westside, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The only problem is the city of Los Angeles has a smaller view of what’s permissible in outdoor display. And your case runs all the way up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. And so what happens to that planned splash display of omnipresent broadcast host Ryan Seacrest? The appellate court has decided to uphold the District Court in this case related to speech, billboards and the governments’ ability to regulate in the interests of safety. Wayne Charles sued the city of Los Angeles for a declaration that his billboard, featuring Seacrest as host of E! News, and other billboards, were exempt from city signage ordinances because the planned displays, they claimed were noncommercial, protected speech. Sorry, not, said the appellate court, which ruled on Oct. 15: the Constitution doesn’t protect a Seacrest billboard; that LA can refuse to permit certain kinds of signs in the interests of traffic safety or aesthetics.
Charles claimed his signs would display content related to motion pictures, theatrical productions, television and radio programming, music, books, newspapers, paintings and other works of art. He argued this content expresses noncommercial content, that substantive parts of the signs were protected by the First Amendment. Neither the district nor appellate court concurred, ruling, instead, this speech was commercial and deserved less protection than noncommercial speech. The billboards were to advertise E! News, but not specific content from the show. As Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote in the appellate decision: “The sign consists only of photographs of the program’s hosts and the name of the program; no other message is conveyed… That the underlying E! News program is itself entitled to full First Amendment protection does not cloak all advertisements for the program with noncommercial status; speech inviting the public to watch E! News is not inherently identical to the speech that constitutes the program itself.” She also found that judges, not city officials, should review First Amendment challenges to billboard permits. For more on the story of billboards click here.