“Plans to advertise from space have been around for decades, but the latest proposals have met fierce criticism.
In August, the Canadian company Geometric Energy Corporation (GEC) announced that it wanted to launch a small satellite with a billboard on it on a SpaceX rocket. The story immediately went viral, and SpaceX and GEC received a barrage of criticism.
In 2019, Russian entrepreneur Vlad Sitnikov got caught up in a similar controversy. ‘I’m an ad guy’, Sitnikov told Al Jazeera. ‘So I thought it would be cool to see a new type of media in the sky…’
‘A big wave of hate crushed me. I decided to halt the project, because people around the world started hating me.’ His start-up, StartRocket, has been in limbo ever since.
A key objection to space advertising proposals is that they will contribute to light pollution from space, a problem that is growing even without ads in orbit.
Advertising in outer space might seem like a vulgar idea, but it’s one with a long history. It’s also getting more popular because the cost of going to space is falling. But the side effects, such as light pollution and space debris, might not be worth it…
Not in my low earth orbit
With space becoming more accessible, and less costly to access, proposals for using space for advertising or entertainment purposes have been increasing. Besides the GEC and StartRocket projects, Japanese start-up ALE wants to use satellites that drop small balls to create artificial shooting stars on demand – a proposition that raised close to $50m in venture funding.
One key objection to these proposals [space advertising schemes] is that they will contribute to light pollution from space, a problem that is growing even without ads in orbit.
‘Until recently most of our work had been on ground-based light pollution’, said Jeffrey Hall, director of the Lowell Observatory, and chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on Light Pollution, Radio Interference, and Space Debris. ‘The issue of light pollution from space is new territory for us, and it only started in 2019 with the launch of the SpaceX Starlink satellites,’ he told Al Jazeera.
Large, so-called ‘constellations’ of small, low-flying satellites have boomed in recent years. For example, SpaceX Starlink wants to launch tens of thousands of satellites to offer internet connections all over the world.
For astronomers, however, to observe space they need relatively dark skies. Yet bright outdoor lights on land, or satellites that emit or reflect light, like the Starlink constellation, can ruin what they do. And Hall fears space billboards might make the problem worse.
‘Satellites leave very bright streaks in images’, he said. ‘The streaks can saturate pixels in the image, and completely ruin it…’
‘Things are moving so fast it makes sense to slow down until we understand the impacts of what we’re doing’, said Hall. Space law
It is possible that space law will prevent satellite billboards. Space is subject to the 1966 Outer Space Treaty, which sees space as a global commons.
‘There is nothing specific in the treaty about space advertising’, said professor emerita Joanne Gabrynowicz, director of the International Institute of Space Law. ‘But article 9 does require signatories to exercise ‘due regard’ of other signatories’ interests and to avoid ‘harmful interference’ to other nations’ space activities,’ she told Al Jazeera.
Satellite billboards that impede astronomers from observing space could be subject to this. On top of that, the US passed a national law during the 1990s that prohibits space advertising that might be deemed ‘obtrusive…’
Of course, SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation was reviewed and approved by US authorities, even though it impacts astronomy. International law also depends on how treaties are applied at the national level. The Russian state would, for example, need to decide whether it sees a Russian space advertising startup as being in line with the Outer Space Treaty. Yet there is a legal argument for blocking space advertising if it would cause too much light pollution…”
“A tax levied by the city of Cincinnati on billboard companies in an effort to close a budget shortfall is an unconstitutional of First Amendment rights to free speech, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Justice Sharon Kennedy, writing the court’s unanimous opinion, said the companies, as publishers of speech, can’t be singled out for engaging in protected expression. She also noted that because of various exceptions, the tax applied mainly to two companies.
Those businesses, Lamar Advertising and Norton Outdoor Advertising, indicated the tax would require them to remove less profitable billboards, which has the effect of limiting protected speech, Kennedy said.
“That the tax involves billboards rather than the institutional press is of no consequence, and strict scrutiny applies,” Kennedy said.
Cincinnati imposed the tax three years ago to raise $709,000 to help cover a $2.5 million budget shortfall. The city argued unsuccessfully that the tax was only a commercial transaction and didn’t target billboard messages.”
SCOTUSblog has been maintaining an ongoing list of various proceedings and orders on their site leading up to November 10 argument:
“Whether the Austin city code’s distinction between on-premise signs, which may be digitized, and off-premise signs, which may not, is a facially unconstitutional content-based regulation under Reed v. Town of Gilbert.”
“…In November, the court will hear argument in City of Austin v. Reagan National Advertising of Texas, a First Amendment challenge to an Austin regulation that bars some digitized billboards but allows others depending on the billboard’s location. A new petition asks the court to take up another challenge to a city policy that involves differential treatment of signs.
The city of Baltimore taxes the owners of displays that advertise services that occur in a different location, meaning many billboards but not other types of signs. One of the country’s largest billboard-advertising companies challenged the tax under the First Amendment. Applying a relaxed standard, Maryland’s highest court upheld the tax as rationally related to the city’s legitimate interest in raising public revenue. In its petition, the billboard owner, one of four such companies in Baltimore, argues that a heightened standard should apply. The company also argues that Baltimore’s distinction between on-premises signs and off-premises signs is ‘even more problematic’ than the one presented in Austin. The case is Clear Channel Outdoor, LLC v. Raymond.”
Photo: Corrie Schaffeld, Cincinnati Business Courier
“The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a tax that Cincinnati City Council put on billboards violated the First Amendment, nullifying it.
After council approved the tax in 2018 aiming to raise $709,000, it never went into effect while the case wound its way through the courts.
The justices reversed a decision by the Hamilton County Appellate Court made in 2020 upholding the imposition of the tax. The court agreed with former Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Curt Hartman, who also believed the tax was unconstitutional, and his successor on the case, Common Pleas Judge Thomas Heekin.
Billboard companies Lamar Advertising and Norton Outdoor Advertising sued the city two years ago after the 7% tax on outdoor billboards was passed, saying it was unconstitutional based on the First Amendment right to free speech and violated the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause and equal protection clauses. The city had approved the tax in order to balance the fiscal year 2019 budget.
‘Even if the city passed the tax ordinance without a motive to censor billboard operators, the threat of overt censorship, self-censorship, or undetectable censorship created by the tax impermissibly infringes on rights protected by the First Amendment,’ wrote Justice Sharon Kennedy. ‘The city’s billboard tax resembles the type of taxes that were a cause of the American Revolution: taxes that curtail the amount of revenue raised by the press through advertisements and tend to directly restrict the circulation of protected expression.’
The court noted that the city exempted all other types of outdoor advertising — ‘potentially thousands’ — from the tax…””
“Out-of-home campaign tells people to ‘Just ask an Aussie’
Developed by VCCP, the campaign places a real-life Aussie (and Caramilk mega fan) on billboards across the UK, where passers-by can ask why the chocolate bar became such a hit Down Under…
Those who can’t make it to the billboards can post questions via an Instagram Q&A.
Beatrice Berutti, senior brand manager at Cadbury-owner Mondelez, said: “We wanted to do something which naturally channelled the Cadbury Caramilk character, whilst standing out from other new product launches.
‘We were committed to doing something a little bit different, albeit whacky, to welcome Caramilk to British shelves, and we’re super excited that our mad plan of pinning a real, live Aussie was pulled off.'”