The laws covering advertising rules may vary by region, and according to the type of product or service being advertised. Generally speaking, the following may be considered common types of advertising violations:
- Copyright Infringement: Using another company’s copyrighted material in an ad without their permission may result in a legal violation
- False Advertising: This is involves advertised claims that are not true in connection with the product or service. In addition, it usually must be shown that the company or business intended to mislead the public with their advertising
- Deceptive Advertisement: This involves statements that are not necessarily untrue, but are meant to deceive or mislead the consumer.
- Trademark Counterfeiting: Using or reproducing another company’s trademark or logo without their permission in an advertisement can lead to a civil lawsuit
While false and deceptive advertising is generally prohibited, the use of “puffery” is common practice in business advertising and is generally not illegal. Puffery is usually recognizable as an exaggerated claim or opinion, such as “the Best Drinks in Town”.
Some advertising violations can result in criminal penalties. These generally result in misdemeanor penalties, including criminal fees and/or time in jail for up to one year. In more serious violations, felony charges can be involved, which can result in higher penalties and jail time of greater than one year.
In addition to possible criminal penalties, many advertising violations lead to private lawsuits in a civil court of law. These are usually between the advertiser and another company, or between the advertiser and a group of affected consumers. Civil lawsuits usually result in a monetary damages award to compensate the non-violating party for their losses.
Defenses are often available to the defendant in an advertising violations lawsuit. These can include lack of evidence, mistake, and “unclean hands” (i.e., the plaintiff has engaged in a similar type of wrong).
Advertising violations can often be very serious, especially if they affect a large group of consumers. In such cases, a costly class action suit can often result. In most instances, a lawyer is needed for assistance with claims involving advertising violations. If you’re facing legal issues with an advertising violation, you may wish to speak with a qualified business lawyer for advice and representation. Your attorney can help advise you on the advertising laws in your area, and can represent you in court if necessary.