Projection Mapping and The Law: What Advertisers Should Know

By Howard Wen
Business.com / Branding / Last Modified: January 31, 2018
Photo credit: Gabor Ekecs

Projection mapping is a great way to impress customers and brand your business. But there are legal complications you should look into.

Projection mapping can be an eye-catching way to present your ad. This video projection technology entails you mapping your ad message onto a surface. It turns common objects, such as buildings, into interactive displays. It's not a cheap proposition, but it definitely makes a memorable impression.

Before hiring an agency that specializes in projection mapping, or before your next event, there are a few legal issues companies should know. 

Permission by owners

Obviously, permission by the owner of the building or structure needs to be granted first. Getting permission from neighboring properties may also be necessary, if the projection equipment will be set up there.

Permits by the local government

Because projection mapping is still a novel way to display visual media in a public space, you should be prepared for a local government not to be familiar with it. Projection mapping could legally be considered cosmetic lighting, OOH (out of home) signage, or a live event that requires a stage permit. Or it could be that the local government may not allow such productions outdoors at all.

"Municipalities … love to hold onto their idiosyncrasies, and, certainly, each jurisdiction will use its own terminology and categories. Understanding the terminology and subtleties of each jurisdiction's ordinances, and how those subtleties can be used to one's advantage, is where good lawyering comes in," said Brian Wassom, a practicing attorney who focuses on copyright and trademark law.

Public safety

The unique visual aspects of projection mapping raise hypothetical questions about how your production could have an unintended, negative effect on the public.

Will making a building appear as if it's crumbling at night, for example, stun nearby passersby to where they become terrified and injure themselves? Could automobile drivers or cyclists seeing your event's imagery become distracted and cause an accident? Could the lights from the projectors impair the eyesight of those inside or around the building?

Copyrights

You and the production company need to be aware of any possible copyright issues with a building or public structure that you plan to project your image on. Creating a 3D graphic model of the building or physical subject in question without the permission of its owner, or without a license to do so, could be considered infringement.

Forget everything above and do your projection-mapping ad campaign guerilla style?

When asked about using guerilla tactics to display an ad using projection mapping, Wassom responded, "Risk is inherent in any guerilla marketing campaign; it's all about realistically ascertaining that risk ahead of time so as to accurately judge whether the risk is acceptable," he said.

Matthew Nix, director of development at Chicago Projection Mapping, stated, "Any company that offers unpermitted or 'guerrilla' mapping services is likely not following local code, which means without legal protection. It is possible to have the event shut down and equipment confiscated at any moment."

Conclusion

You should work with a production company that has experience executing projection-mapping events and securing the necessary permits and permissions. The initial burden may appear to be on the production company, but both sides (you, the advertiser, and the production company, the vendor) can be liable, so it's imperative that both sides understand what is expected of the other party.

Wassom says: "Define precisely what is to be done: where, when, how and by whom. The advertiser should expect to bear the risk of what it requests, but defining the engagement precisely allows the advertiser to be very direct in requiring the vendor to bear the risk of anything falling outside those parameters."

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