By Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director
It has been a while since I’ve shared some of the answers to member questions. The hotline service we provide is an important part of your ONA membership, and we welcome your questions.
If we don’t know the answer immediately, we will do what we can to get a solid answer to you as soon as we can. This often includes a referral to our legal hotline attorney and ONA counsel, Lou Colombo of Baker & Hostetler in Cleveland.
This time we are focusing on several advertising-related questions that we have fielded recently.
Q: Does Ohio have laws about how used mattresses and bedding can be advertised?
A: I found no regulations specific to advertising, but if you have advertisers who sell second-hand items, they might not be aware that they can’t sell used bedding, mattresses and stuffed animals without going through several procedures outlined in Section 3713 of the Ohio Revised Code. This includes registration and a requirement to follow sanitation procedures approved by the state.
The registration requirement exempts non-profits. And the rules don’t cover sales of furniture from one homeowner directly to a purchaser.
If you need more information or links to the specific codes and regulations, just let us know.
Q: I know state law requires my newspaper to upload the government notices we publish for free to our website if we have one, but does this also apply to private legal notices?
A: ONA counsel Lou Colombo notes that this section of the law (ORC 7.10) does not refer to free web publication for trustees, executors, courts and others. The free Internet requirement applies to notices published by a county, municipality, township school or other political subdivision.
Therefore, a newspaper could levy an additional charge for Internet publication of a private notice. However, this still is an important policy decision that could invite political pushback affecting all ONA members. We would not recommend charging for the Web notice if you already are charging for the print notice.
By the way, if your newspaper is not uploading notices to our re-launched public notice website, PublicNoticesOhio.com, we urge you to start doing so. More than 125 Ohio newspapers already have registered and most have begun uploading notices – more than 2,000 in the first week. This can be done as an automated feed in most cases. Contact Jason Sanford, email@example.com, for more information.
Q: I’m confused about the law on the rates we can charge for legal notices. For example, what can I charge if it is a display ad instead of a classified ad? Do I have to give the government advertiser a discount if I have a multiple-placement discount?
A: We get a lot of questions about the rate language, which is ambiguous in some respects. First of all, you are not required to provide the absolute lowest rate you would give anyone for any reason. However, your “government rate” should be no higher than the rate you would charge someone else with those same requirements. Of course, there is nothing to prevent you from offering a lower rate than that. The law sets a ceiling, not a floor.
While the law refers to classified rates, the principal is the same for display rates. You should offer your best comparable rate to the public notice customer. In other words, ask what your best rate would be for someone else based on size, frequency, contract vs. non-contract, etc. If the government advertiser is willing to sign a contract, you would give the best price you would give someone else at those volume or frequency levels.
One newspaper asked about classified price breaks offered without contracts. Our advice is to provide the same “break” to the government advertiser if those ads fit the requirements.
Lou Colombo puts it this way: “These issues will be fleshed out over the next few years, but if you begin from the perspective that you need to offer comparable rates for comparable services, and look at the substance of what is happening rather than being technical, you should be all right. Stated differently, the government gets the best deal any private entity gets.”
There seem to be as many variations on these rate questions as newspaper have rate cards. Let us know if there is a specific situation we can address.
Q:I have a tobacco shop that wants to advertise. What is the latest on the surgeon general’s warnings and other restrictions on tobacco advertising?
A: The federal warning labels requirements with which we are all familiar do not apply to retailers, and it is still legal to advertise tobacco products for sale in newspapers in Ohio.
Ohio does regulate price advertising of tobacco, however. Under ORC 1331.11(F)(1), retailers can’t advertise prices that sell tobacco below cost or wholesale price.
It appears roll-your-own tobacco now has to follow the same regulations as cigarettes, and retailers that advertise roll-your-own tobacco should be aware that the federal loophole has been closed as of July. Local retailers that are rolling cigarettes for customers could be considered manufacturers, so arguably they could be subject to the warning label requirements if they advertised this service.
Here is a story on that subject: http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Feds-snuff-out-the-roll-your-own-loophole-3694607.php.
Q: We are doing commercial printing for a publication that prints mug shots of accused local lawbreakers. There is obvious potential here for someone to sue them someday. Are we potentially liable for what they publish?
A: No, but make sure you are keeping an arms-length from having any control over their content. Lou Colombo recommends that you obtain a clear purchase order or contract for any commercial printing job– certainly one such as this that could be problematic. The contract should include language in which the publisher holds you harmless and indemnifies you from any claims regarding the contents of the publication.