Legal Hotline: Flag in Ads

  • Jun 22, 2017

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q:  An automotive advertiser wants to use a picture of the American flag in a display ad. Is that ok?

A:  Generally, no. Under federal law (4 U.S.C.A. §3), the American flag cannot be used for advertising purposes. This means that the flag may not be marked or written upon in an advertisement or desecrated in any manner. Illustrations of the flag are also prohibited. The federal flag rules are a “code of conduct,” however, and do not carry penalties for violation.

Pennsylvania has enacted a similar statute which prohibits use of the U.S. or state flag for advertising purposes. See 18 P.S. §2102. This law makes it a misdemeanor to use the flag improperly. There are exceptions to the general rule, however, including that the flag may be used in “any patriotic or political demonstration or decorations.” 18 P.S. § 2102(b)(4).

Although these statutes are rarely enforced, publishers should be aware of them.  Improper use of the flag may also offend readers. Some newspapers suggest alternatives to advertisers, such as patriotic banners, bunting or streamers. 

As always, the above summary is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice. Please call the Legal Hotline (717-703-3080) or your newspaper’s lawyer with specific questions or concerns. 

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