Sony, BMG Face Charges Of Illegal 'Flyposting'

Record companies in London may have to reconsider their street advertising activities in light of recent legal steps taken against Sony Music and BMG.

LONDON -- Record companies in London may have to reconsider their street advertising activities in light of recent legal steps taken against Sony Music and BMG.

Camden council in North London has launched legal proceedings to stop the two majors from illegal "flyposting," the long-standing practice of pasting unauthorized posters in highly visible public areas.

The Metropolitan police served notice May 27 that Camden council in North London is seeking Anti-Social Behavior Orders (ASBO) against executives from BMG U.K. and Ireland and Sony Music Entertainment U.K.

A spokesperson for Camden confirms that Sony Music U.K. managing director Catherine Davies and international marketing director Jo Headland have been notified; BMG U.K. temporary employee Lucy Hansford was also contacted. Camden claims it acted in response to more than 1,000 complaints from residents, local businesses and visitors.

Representatives of Sony and BMG would not comment, other than to confirm that the companies have been contacted on the issue.

ASBOs, which are civil procedures to curb unruly behavior, have until now been aimed at drug dealers and users, prostitutes and vandals. "We've been really proactive in using this legislation. It's the first time it has been used this way," says a spokesperson for the council.

A hearing has been set for June 14 at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court in London. If the accused do not contest the ASBO, then it can be granted as an ASBO "by consent." In that case, all parties would work out the terms of the order together. However, if they do contest it, then the court will set a date for a full hearing.

Camden has already applied for an interim order to take effect from June 14, banning the companies from posting fliers until the date of the full hearing. The magistrates will decide June 14 whether to grant the order.

ASBO convictions carry jail sentences of up to five years.

Camden says Sony and BMG repeatedly ignored prosecutions and requests to stop displaying advertising material on streets. Camden estimates that the exposure BMG and Sony have gained from their street campaigns would be worth an annual £5.6 million ($10.28 million) and £3 million ($5.5 million), respectively, in legitimate advertising.

"Flyposting has a detrimental impact on the value of property and contributes to people's fear of crime and, as a result, to actual criminal behavior, which is why we are seeking to outlaw it," comments Dame Jane Roberts, leader of Camden council.

Illegally placed billboards fall under the definition of "advertisements" in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

In typical cases relating to such advertisements, the London Local Authorities Act applies. This law gives London local authorities the right to remove or obliterate the posters unless they are removed or destroyed within a specified time. Local authorities can reclaim the costs of removal from either the person who put up the advertisement or from any person who benefits from it.

"Flyposting" offenders are liable on summary conviction for a fine of up to £1,000 ($1,838) and a further fine of up to £100 ($183) for each day during which the offense continues after conviction.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) offers legal advice to its members -- which include Sony Music and BMG -- on the issue. On the BPI's Web site, under a section titled "Bill posters will be prosecuted," the trade group defines "flyposting" as an illegal activity.

Camden's hardline stance coincides with an ambitious street improvement project that, it says, is backed by investment of about £24 million ($44 million).

In a statement, project manager Peter Strange accuses Sony of hypocrisy. He cites the company's environmental policy, which is posted on its Web site,, Strange says, "The fact that this illegal activity is being carried out by major companies like Sony Music Entertainment (U.K.) Ltd., with a stated commitment to 'protecting and improving the environment,' to 'preserve and enhance the environment,' and to 'comply with environmental, safety and health laws and regulations,' makes it even worse."

Encams, the British environmental charity behind the "Keep Britain Tidy" campaign, is endorsing Camden council's actions and has vowed to step up its battle against illegally placed adverts. "When we first broached the subject, record chiefs simply patronized us with hollow promises in the hope that we would make our protests, give in and go away," comments Encams CEO Alan Woods. "We are 100% behind Camden, but if their tough stance still doesn't stem the tide, we'll look at other ways of using the law to stop them flyposting."

A source at another major label tells ELW that Encams approached the company on a similar issue late last year. "They contacted us, and they were pretty vigilant," says the source. "It should come as no surprise to Sony and BMG that they were named and shamed."

Encams estimates that a "good proportion" of the £342 million ($628 million) of public money that is spent every year clearing litter in Britain is used to combat flyposting. Camden says it spends £250,000 ($458,000) each year tackling the problem.