Whether posted for display, handed out to passersby or distributed by other means, flyers are a well-established, low-cost advertising vehicle. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued several rulings confirming that individuals, organizations and businesses have the right to distribute or display literature. Even so, free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment often stop where private property begins. There are a number of laws and local ordinances that restrict the distribution and display of advertising flyers. For example, some municipalities require that those distributing flyers door-to-door obtain a permit, so inquire about local laws before proceeding.
Try Community Bulletin Boards
Post an advertising flyer on a community bulletin board. This is a legal means of gaining exposure. Get permission from the owner or representative of the bulletin board. Many colleges, for example, require that flyers posted in common areas include a stamp of approval from an administer; unapproved flyers are immediately removed. Individuals who repeatedly post unauthorized flyers risk legal repercussions including trespassing or vandalism.
Distribute by Hand
Distribute flyers by hand. This is legal, provided the activity takes place on public property and is done in a non-threatening manner. Never impede pedestrian traffic or make comments to those who refuse your flyer. Conversely, gated communities, shopping malls and their parking lots are private property and usually have security personnel patrolling the area. Permission is required for distributing flyers in those areas.
Post in Shops
Ask local merchants if you can leave a stack of flyers near the cash register or other high profile area. If they give their approval, leave only a small stack and replenish the flyers as needed. If the flyers spill to the floor, they are likely to be tossed in the trash.
Avoid Door-to-Door Distribution
Avoid questionable distribution practices. Relying on door-to-door distribution of flyers is a murky area, because it often involves traversing on private property. Mail boxes that are outside the home are off limits -- even if they are on public property. According to the United States Postal Service, "Only mail that has been sent through the USPS may be placed in these types of receptacles." The regulations do not govern what can be placed in a mail slot on the door of a residence or business.
Check Your Local Laws
Check local regulations. Using utility poles or other stationary objects on public property to post a flyer is likely illegal but local laws and the level of enforcement vary. Typical, is a law in the town of Gloversville, New York, which states, "Temporary signs cannot be attached to utility poles, fences, trees or other vegetation or on a public way." Other municipalities might crack down on those who use glue to affix the flyer, because they are not easily removed.
Ask the Police
Check with the local police department before distributing flyers door-to-door. Some municipalities require permits or ban the practice altogether. Merchants are more favorably inclined to their customers. Buy something before asking permission to leave a small stack of flyers. A flyer placed in a plastic bag with a bit of sand enables you to toss it on a front porch. The sand will weigh it down and the bag will keep it dry. Pick up flyers dropped to the ground after being accepted by a pedestrian. This avoids conflicts with the law and establishes your credibility as a responsible citizen.
Be Mindful of Private Property
Even if they are parked on public property, cars are private property. There is no legal right to place a flyer on someone's windshield. Some municipalities specifically ban the practice. Police officers have wide discretion to determine what constitutes disorderly conduct or harassment. If you are told to stop distributing flyers, politely ask the officer for an explanation. Make a note of his name and badge number. Leaving a stack of flyers in a public area is a form of littering. They must be handed out one-by-one.
Al Stewart's 30-year background as a writer/editor includes staff positions at "Adweek," "Billboard," "Chain Drug Review," "Cable World," "DNR" (men's fashion), "National Floor Trends," and "Variety." A native New Yorker, he is now a writer/editor living in Los Angeles. He has a BA in political science from Wagner College.