© Sara Cohen
How are music scenes affected by fly-posting and its regulation?
Fly-posting involves the display of advertising material on buildings and street furniture without permission from the owner. Many fly-posters take the form of stickers and posters advertising music events and products and they have been the focus of considerable debate about music scenes.
In Britain fly-posting is against the law although local by-laws against fly-posting vary from borough to borough. Breaking these by-laws is a criminal offence, which means that if you are caught by the police you can be arrested, charged and possibly fined.
Those in favour of fly-posting argue that music scenes depend upon it, particularly local scenes supported by small businesses that operate independently from major music corporations. Some clubs and performance venues, for example, depend upon fly-posting as their main source of advertising. Individual bands and musicians also display their own cheaply-produced posters in public places in order to advertise forthcoming gigs. Some people believe that these kinds of fly-posters help to illustrate the vibrancy of local culture as well as local creativity and freedom of expression. In fact there are websites devoted to instructing musicians and other groups on how to fly-post.
The main argument against fly-posting is that it is anti-social and a public nuisance, an act of vandalism that spoils the visual appearance of public places. In Britain local authorities argue that they spend hundreds of thousands of pounds every year on the removal of fly-posters. Some also argue that the main culprits are not individual musicians and small, local music businesses but in fact national club promoters and multinational record companies with large marketing budgets. In 2004 two directors at Sony Music and BMG were threatened with anti-social behaviour orders by Camden Borough Council for authorising illegal fly-posting.
Over recent years British authorities have tried to explore new ways of tackling fly-posting. Instead of removing posters, for example, some city councils have pasted 'Cancelled' notices across them. Other councils have arranged for officially approved public bulletin boards where posters can be pasted without fear of punishment, a scheme adopted in other European and US cities.
In 2004 Liverpool City Council tried to remove fly-posters from an area of the city centre that was about to be visited by the judging panel for the European Capital of Culture competition. Liverpool was one of the cities short-listed for that competition and the council was concerned to clean up the area in time for the judges' visit. However their efforts provoked the pasting of further posters in the area stating 'This is culture'. The posters featured a subtext that encouraged people to make copies of the posters and distribute them throughout the city.
'This is culture' poster © Sara Cohen
The following year Liverpool City Council introduced a new scheme entitled 'Off the Wall', which allowed fly-posting on special designated poster sites and additional publicity for local bands that played by the rules. The council launched the scheme in partnership with two other organisations: City Centre Poster, which built and maintained the sites at no cost to the council; and a local listings magazine that offered law-abiding bands space to promote their gigs without the need for fly-posters and without having to pay.