San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera – already a hero to some for defending marriage rights, gun laws and the city’s universal health care ordinance – could soon cement his legal reputation with the noblest undertaking of them all: bringing the hammer down on Justin Bieber.
Herrera sent a letter Monday to executives at Def Jam Recordings and Universal Music Group – the Canadian scourge’s record label and distribution company – demanding that they cooperate in identifying and punishing those responsible for a guerrilla marketing campaign for Bieber’s new album, “Purpose,” involving stenciled, spray-painted messages on public sidewalks.
Herrera called the graffiti vandalism “illegal and actionable,” and vowed to “aggressively pursue all available penalties and costs from those responsible for lawless marketing tactics that intend to financially benefit your respective companies.”
According to Herrera’s office, San Francisco Public Works workers have been responding for several weeks to neighborhood complaints about the stenciled ads. In his letter, Herrera notes that other recent instances of illegal sidewalk advertising was chalk-based, but the Bieber-tagging looks to have been applied with permanent spray paint.
State and local laws let his office pursue civil litigation for such unlawful guerrilla marketing practices, and such lawsuits could secure court-ordered injunctions, civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation, and restitution for fees and costs if successful. Herrera’s office has successfully resolved similar violations by perpetrators including IBM, NBC Universal, Turner Broadcasting and Zynga; past disputes also involving illegal sidewalk graffiti ads ended with financial settlements to compensate city taxpayers for all costs, civilly punish wrongdoing, and publicly discourage such illicit conduct by other would-be commercial vandals.
“This prohibited marketing practice illegally exploits our City’s walkable neighborhoods and robust tourism; intentionally creates visual distractions that pose risks to pedestrians on busy rights of way; and irresponsibly tells our youth that likeminded lawlessness and contempt for public property are condoned and encouraged by its beneficiaries – including Mr. Bieber and the record labels that produce and promote him,” Herrera wrote to Def Jam CEO Steve Bartels and Universal Music General Counsel and EVP Jeffrey Harleston.
The city certainly is grappling with… well… smellier street problems than this, but still doesn’t want the Bieb plastered all over its sidewalks at any time, and especially not during the upcoming festivities surrounding Super Bowl 50. Herrera’s letter said he’s working with the Board of Supervisors on legislation to “substantially enhance civil penalties” for illegal guerilla marketing tactics, and Supervisor Aaron Peskin already has begun drafting it.
“Graffiti abatement and prevention are important aspects of protecting the quality of life in San Francisco neighborhoods,” Peskin said in Herrera’s news release. “Unfortunately, current penalties for ‘guerrilla marketing’ graffiti seem to reflect an acceptable cost of doing business by irresponsible companies competing for consumers’ attention. It’s clear that we need to enact tougher penalties to more effectively discourage this practice.”