The following article originally appeared on the Small Business Administration website in February 2001, but it was subsequently removed.
The following are the four different sets of legal issues you will want to know about regarding your business signage.
- Almost all local governments control the construction, materials, electrical or other operating components, size, number and location of business signs. Typically, standards for construction, materials and operation are found in local building and electrical codes; regulations controlling physical parameters and placement or display are found either as part of a comprehensive, land-use zoning code or in a separate “sign code.” (See “How will my business sign be regulated?“)
- Business signs are considered a form of “commercial speech” that has significant protection from unlawful government interference under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Also, under the Fourteenth Amendment, local governments are required to provide due process and equal treatment to all applicants as part of the sign-permitting process. (See “How do the First and Fourteenth Amendments affect regulation of my business sign?”)
- There are federal laws protecting a sign company or business owner when someone tries to “copy” the design, artwork, or wording of a business sign without authorization. For example, an innovative method for constructing a sign may be protected by a patent, the original artwork on a sign may be copyrighted, and a unique business logo may obtain both trademark and copyright protection. (See copyrights, patents and trademarks.)
- Finally, whether a business owner owns or leases the sign, the sign is a business asset and receives the same tax treatment as any other tangible business property. (See additional information about signage as a business asset.)