Washington Law Review


This Article, written for the Washington Law Review’s 2013 Symposium, The Disclosure Crisis, argues that hidden sponsorship creates a form of non-actionable influence rather than causing legally cognizable deception that mandatory disclosure can and should cure. The Article identifies and calls into question three widely held assumptions underpinning much of the regulation of embedded advertising, or hidden sponsorship, in artistic communications. The first assumption is that advertising can be meaningfully discerned and separated from communicative content for the purposes of mandating disclosure, even when such advertising occurs in “hybrid speech.” The second assumption is that the hidden promotional aspects of hybrid speech create a form of legally cognizable deception. The final assumption holds that disclosure is normatively desirable, to inform audiences of hybrid speech of its hybridity, and in so doing, to remedy the perceived harms that flow from hidden sponsorship. The Article challenges these three assumptions by using as an example the little-remarked phenomenon of sponsored literature, literary texts in and around which advertising is inserted, as well as literary texts that owe their existence to commissioning advertisers. The standard disclosure literature does not consider contexts such as these, in which the decision-making process does not involve crucial questions of life or death, shelter or homelessness, solvency or bankruptcy. Thus the entertainment context of hybrid speech demands different regulatory treatment. The Article concludes that mandatory disclosure is the wrong regulatory response to hidden sponsorship because the harms that it ostensibly creates are rooted in influence, rather than deception.

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