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Is projecting a message onto the wall of a building a trespass? (washingtonpost.com)
45 points by acsillag on Aug 18, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 82 comments

No would be my quick reaction, it makes no sense and if it was then many other things that obviously aren't would be considered trespass too.

You probably have a legitimate claim to call it vandalism though. Easily repaired vandalism (just turn the projector off) but deliberate defacement all the same.

I came here to say the same thing, trespass law appears to be the wrong angle and vandalism would be a better starting point.

Vandalism law shouldn't even care if the cost to repair the damage is zero. With regular vandalism offering to clean and repair the damage might convince the victim to not press changes, but it's not a get out of jail free card, they can still press charges.

Also, I assume damage to reputation before the vandalism was 'repaired' can be taken into account under current law.

But if we take into account damage to reputation aren't we getting dangerously close to infringing on free speech / freedom of the press?

If the projected accusations are true, then the damage to reputation is really coming from the person's own actions being widely communicated. Right to control property is one thing, but we have no right to control what is widely known about our actions.

But we do have the right to control the medium. You may print facts in your paper, but that gives you no right to burn them into my lawn, or soap them onto my windows, and by extension, use my private property in any way to broadcast them.

No you wouldn't.

> action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property.

It is neither damage nor destruction unless you use a nearly incomprehensible definition of either word.

You might be able to call it disturbing the peace but that's criminal and not civil so removes some ability to seek redress from the building owner.

Vandalism includes defacement too, even if the defacement is fully reversible (such as spray-painting cleanable surfaces).

According to Wikipedia, throwing shoes over powerlines already counts as vandalism (though I wouldn't mind a citation on that). If throwing shoes over powerlines (which anyone can agree is fully reversible) then you should be able to argue that projecting light is vandalism too.

Actually, projecting light is worse, is't not actually possible for the target can clean up the defacement, short of forcing you to turn the projector off.

Spray paint is destructive, especially if the surface underneath is painted and removal of spray paint removes that paint as well.

I have no idea if shoes over power lines is actually vandalism or not, I'm willing it is in some areas (Los Angeles? NYC?) and not in others (Duluth? Fargo?).

If I smear insults on your shopfront window with a whiteboard marker, is that not vandalism? It leaves no trace and takes only a minute to remove, no special equipment required.

I think anything that requires cleaning is legally classified as destructive.

What if I clean insults onto the side of your dirty car?

No, vandalism requires actual physical damage of some sort.

The article is essentially the legal reasoning from the Nevada Court of Appeal - some fairly experienced legal minds examining the situation (in this case, via an appeal).

They're fairly clear in how they examine the situation and that no accepted definition of trespass applies and suggest some recourse to 'victims' who could, rather than incur huge legal fees, simply set their own competing projector to overcome the undesired images. An example of appeal judges being fairly pragmatic and laying a foundation for lawyers handling future cases to suggest better resolutions than expensive litigation - if only they'd read appeal court decisions /and remember them/.

However, they do also suggest there is a case to consider the situation a nuisance (s.4) and take action that way.

Given they make no mention of vandalism as an avenue, it seems quite evident the experienced legal experts suggest the situation is one of nuisance and should be handled as that if resorting to law.

Why should anyone on HN argue with a qualified legal opinion by suggesting alternative legal strategies?

I agree with your characterization of vandalism, but to

> Why should anyone on HN argue with a qualified legal opinion by suggesting alternative legal strategies?

there are a long list of reasons why we might want to:

- some of us have qualified legal opinions of our own

- it's a discussion site

- the victims here employed a poor legal strategy, as nuisance claims were obviously more likely to succeed than trespass claims, so it isn't like there wasn't room for improvement upon the actual legal strategy

- because even lay-people may be right on legal matters (though they rarely tend to be)

I'm sure there are many, many more reasons why, but off the top of my head, those will do. The idea that we shouldn't have free reign to discuss things we don't have expert knowledge of would, if put in action, eliminate the very purpose of forums like HN.

Because they disagree with that legal opinion? I argue against the Citizens United decision constantly and that decision came down from arguably the most knowledgeable and important legal minds of today.

What specifically did you find problematic in the Citizens United decision?

Vandalism requires physical damage? So if I draw a vulgar cartoon on the side of a church in chalk its not vandalism?

Well, it depends on where you are.

As far as I know, where I have lived most(Western Australia) it is not considered vandalism.

This is the third result on Google for "vandalism chalk"(though it seems to have some mixed messages):


That still results in a physical change to the building, even if it is only temporary (or not, if the building material is unusually porous).

The test that I remember seeing applied in the past concerns "intention distruction or defacement". As I understand it, alterations (graffiti, breaking a window, removing ornamentation, etc.) that alters the physical object or space can apply.

You're using the word in a different sense than the person you're responding to. They're talking about the standard for charging someone for a criminal act.

Possibly not, but you would be in violation of trespass, which is somewhat ironic given the article's failure to prevail on a trespass claim.

The OP lists a specific legal reasoning arguing that it could/should be forbidden, but under nuisanse laws instead of trespass laws - however, they explicitly made a claim only in respect of the trespass laws.

The specific precedent it cites is when actual matter entered somebody else's property, like excessive smoke. Light isn't matter. Projecting something onto someones property isn't all that different from shouting next to it. We have specific laws for when loud sound leaks into other peoples property, so we should probably have specific laws for light.

I got the impression that at least they (Nevada) don't have specific laws for loud soud entering property; but loud sound, smells, etc entering property would all be treated similarly as a general nuisance, so this light projection would already be covered by that - if only the complaint asked for redress about that instead of trespass.

The full opinion in the article goes on to explain that it would be more appropriate to bring the case under nuisance laws, rather than trespass, or indeed vandalism.

No, of course it's not bloody trespass. The article even says so, right at the beginning. All the focused/ambient/intentionality/information-content discussion is interesting, but irrelevant. Why must we insist on squeezing radically different new situations into existing categories that were clearly designed for something else? Can we not think for ourselves, and evaluate these things on their own merits?

Mostly, because it's easier to abuse old and poorly written laws to our own ends than it is to try and legislate for new problems and technology.

It seems the core of this issue is the definition of "tangible". Why does the law profession choose to use such obtuse wording? There doesn't appear to be any way for normal people or even lawyers to identify if something is tangible in the way the law describes it.

Same reason programmers do - to be understood by the machine. The words are essentially in code, and you use different ones at your peril.

> There doesn't appear to be any way for normal people or even lawyers to identify if something is tangible in the way the law describes it.

Tangible normally means "touchable" though who knows what the law makes of the word. I don't think one can touch light in any meaningful sense.

> Why does the law profession choose to use such obtuse wording?

I'm not 100% $ure, but I have my $u$picion$...

Have you ever tried to have a clear written agreement with another person?

> pc86 will build a WP brochure site for linker3000 for $1,500.

But you need it by a certain date?

> add date clause

But I'm not taking a risk that you might not have the money

> add non-refundable deposit clause

But what if my house gets flooded or I lose electricity for a month?

> add Force Majeure class

But what if you give me a bunch of stolen images to use?

> add indemnity clause

> add IP clause

But what if I violate half a dozen labor laws while completing your work?

> add another indemnity clause

Repeat over and over again until you have a 15+ page single-spaced contract for a piddly $1,500 website.

Words mean things. In law, words typically mean very specific things. That's why "trespass" doesn't fit here, even though I think we can all agree you shouldn't be able to project messages onto someone else's property no matter what the message is or where you happen to be standing.

I think your argument is inconsistent. First you talk about whole "clauses", then you get back to words and you don't seem to connect these in any way.

Anyway, having a bunch of many very specific terms is hardly specific to lawyers, that's not the problem. The problem with legalese, as I see it, is that it lacks higher-order types and lambdas... Erm... efficient means of generalization or specialization inline, without a need for two sentences to add one minor detail and the need for a full, multi-paragraph clause when adding a somewhat "standard" - without any modifications - piece of an arrangement.

Heck, even a simple inheritance would help (you get a GeneraIPClause and while writing an agreement you just write `OurIPClause is GeneralIPClause with { ...modifications... }`.

My point was that when you actually look at the entire agreement and all the possible edge cases it is meant to cover, legalese makes perfect sense in context.

English isn't code. You don't get "higher-order types and lambdas" in English, come on now.

Exactly. This is exactly why we have elected representatives. Nothing is destroyed, it can be 'cleaned up' instantly, nobody climbed any fences or can be asked to leave, yet most people would probably say that it is not ok to project messages onto a building that the owner didn't approve of.

Legislators should draft a law that defines what 'it' is (e.g. not ambient light), what is excluded (art? abandoned buildings?), and how bad is it (jail, fine, etc).

>Why must we insist on squeezing radically different new situations into existing categories that were clearly designed for something else?

This is a problem which Marshall McLuhan wrote about frequently, he described our situation as if we were navigating the present like someone driving down the road using only the rear view mirror.

>Hypnotized by their rear-view mirrors, philosophers and scientists alike tried to focus the figure of man in the old ground of nineteenth-century industrial mechanism and congestion. They failed to bridge from the old figure to the new. It is man who has become both figure and ground via the electrotechnical extension of his awareness. With the extension of his nervous system as a total information environment, man bridges art and nature.


> Is projecting a message onto the wall of a building a trespass

How about an advertisement whose light enters the private space of my car?

Read the article. Judge's opinion quoted therein suggests there is a difference between ambient light entering private space as a side effect of projecting a message elsewhere and focused light entering the same space with the intent of creating the message within the space.

The opinion is tautological, there is no real difference.

>ambient light entering private space as a side effect of projecting a message elsewhere

Advertisements are not designed to be projected anywhere else besides your psyche.

>focused light entering the same space with the intent of creating the message within the space.

Again, visual advertisements are focused light created with the intent of inserting a message into your eyes and psyche.

The difference is that the ambient advertisement doesn't meaningfully change the appearance of your piece of property. And in any case, you have no legal right to shut out the world.

>The difference is that the ambient advertisement doesn't meaningfully change the appearance of your piece of property.

Property: a thing or things belonging to someone.

Do our minds not belong to us?

I just wanted to say this exchange about whether advertising can be likened to trespass and vandalism has been very thought provoking. Your argument holds water. Have an up-vote.

If you're redefining property that way, sure. But of course that's wrong in the legal sense. You've never had a legal right to control what enters your eyes and ears.

How about an advertisement via radio waves that enters everything in its path?

The top post, that's far more interesting, as it is immediately perceivable without equipment. This isn't the same as "broadcast radio" RF, where you can choose to simply turn off the radio.

You the property owner can turn off your radio, sure, but what if the radio is broadcasting fart sounds? You wouldn't want to have the reputation of the business where customers could turn on their radio to hear fart sounds, would you? Or embarrassing facts about you or your business, maybe. Or worse. Hitler speeches?

If they have to opt to turn on their radio, and tune to a frequency, how is that substantially different from just using their cell phone to read bad reviews about your business? Besides, jamming radio signals off of your own property is illegal, so this is only really relevant for ham bands.

Agree, more comparable example related would be sound ordnance and freedom of speech.

There are a number of laws related to endangering the public using light; for example, the issues related to lasers and airplane pilots.

From one of the opinions: "Trespass is one of the oldest torts known to Anglo-American jurisprudence, dating as far back as twelfth-century England. But back then, even the most advanced thinkers of the day were not aware of such things as atoms, electrons, or photons ….; it would be another two centuries before Galileo proved that the earth revolved around the sun, a revelation so antithetical to prevailing thought that he was burned at the stake for suggesting it."

Sigh. Galileo was not burned at the stake. At least they got wave-particle duality mostly right.

I'm not an english native speaker, so maybe I'm wrong but I always took "burned at the stake" as an expression for punishment which lead to death, not as the person was literally burned at a stake.

But, as I said, I might be wrong.

Certainly in British English it would literally mean being tied to a stake and set on fire.

It is sometimes used just to indicate general punishment, particularly a demotion or sacking, usually where is it seen as over the top or unfair. In that case there is sometimes a link (stated or implied) to a "witch hunt" and the person burned at the state is considered a scapegoat. e.g. "no one quite knows where data leaked from, but John who used to be head of tech services was burned at the stake for it".

(source: native Englishman)

I'm not sure such a usage would be entertained when talking about someone where being burned at the stake is considered contemporary - i.e. it's only used where the expression is deliberately hyperbolic.

It is not even true as a metaphor. He died in his own bed (albeit under house arrest) due to "fever and heart palpitations"

So he was poisoned? ;)

I've always understood the expression in its literal sense. Joan of Arc is a well-known example who was executed in this way.

British punishment descriptions are quite literal.

Being hung, drawn, and quartered meant literally "Convicts were fastened to a hurdle, or wooden panel, and drawn by horse to the place of execution, where they were hanged (almost to the point of death), emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered (chopped into four pieces)."


Others are included in a more general article on capital punishments:


as a native US english speaker, my take is that if the method of death is specified, it's specific: burned at the stake, hung, stoned, decapitated. If I wanted to be general, I would say, "was sentenced to death." There the method is left to the reader.

He died of natural causes. If I'm remembering from history class, he planted some of his work with a colleague to be published after his death, as a sort of death man's switch.

Also, he wasn't punished for positing a heliocentric model, but rather for writing a book with a character named Simplicio(idiot in Latin) who parroted the same arguments against heliocentrism as the pope. This was taken as him calling the pope an idiot.

s/Galileo/Giordano Bruno/g

Sigh indeed...

I say yes it is something, although trespass might be the wrong label for it.

Reason: you purchase or build a wall to enjoy it's features. Those might be protecting your property, keeping out cold, or having a certain appearance. If I have a yellow wall and you project red onto it, then you have denied me a feature of my wall. Hence, you should be stopped from doing that.

A second concern, who is responsible for what is projected onto the wall? The owner of the wall or the projectionist? Say someone projects some questionable video on the wall. If the wall didn't exist the video would not be showing to cause the concern to passing people. But it does, so who gets the fine?

Uh, this is a convoluted approach to a pretty simply established relationship between public and business owners / operators.

Practically speaking in my city, based on ordinances, if there's no sign that says "Post No Bills" then "It is okay to post flyers on this building." The flyers should be different from vandalism, in that they are not permanent nor so flimsy as to fall off and become litter. A projection easily fits into this category, physical or digital "bill" so to speak.

That sounds like a horrible relationship, and is certainly not the norm in many cities.

As a property owner, you should not have to request (by means of a "Post No Bills" message or other) that other people don't interfere with your property.

If it's not causing damage or vandalism then I don't quite see the issue. If the material is unwelcome then of course the property owner has every right to take it down. Mostly this ordinance is useful for closed / boarded up buildings, in my recollection.

It's not trespass but it is depriving the owners of the building the right to decide how it will be used. The owners have the right to display any message or none, this behavior denies them that control over their property.

Unfortunately, that argument was apparently not explicitly made in the suit.

The owners have the right to display any message or none

Not even that is necessarily true, since in many cases there are superseding laws covering the external appearance of buildings and to what extent they can be used as billboards (and what those billboards can and cannot display)

tl;dr: sue for nuisance instead of trespass

Is constantly following you with a laser pointer a stalking?

If I am in an aircraft, it runs afoul of various laws in most jurisdictions.

If the beam can cause injury, there's that.

If it's done in a manner meant to annoy, intimidate, or harrass, quite possibly.

See as a general parallel paparrazi laws, in some regions. Being in public doesn't provide you with unlimited capacity to act, particularly as that influences others.

How about a virtual billboard in your living room? On your webpage? In your Pokémon game?

Funnily enough I was looking into this stuff recently as I was wondering what would prevent Niantic from showing adverts in Pokemon Go. Imagine playing outside a Starbucks and getting a notification that Costa is nearby and offering a discount.

My guess is that they could also claim nuisance.

If it's OK to shine lights at a building, is it OK to spread smoke towards it?

From the TFA:

"The traditional common-law view was that property injury caused by such things as light, gas, sound, smoke, odors, or vibrations might constitute an actionable nuisance under the right circumstances, but could not support a cause of action in trespass."

Unless the smoke was causing damage:

> “a trespass may also occur when intangible matter, such as particles emanating from a manufacturing plant, cause actual and/or substantial damage to the [property].”

I dont know about "substantial" but ultra-violet does technically cause damage. You can see this in posters left in particularly sunny shop windows for extended periods of time.

Sir, the gamma rays were set free inside my property. The children happen to have placed themselves in their path, 5 km away.

It's irresponsible gamma ray owners like you that give all rays a bad name.

"it would be another two centuries before Galileo proved that the earth revolved around the sun, a revelation so antithetical to prevailing thought that he was burned at the stake for suggesting it."


This case needs a story written with a judge named Simplicio.

What I find most interesting here is the relationship between extremely old laws and evolution in technology.

The court seemed to suggest that using old laws to tackle a new issue wasn't appropriate:

> "If the Nevada Legislature wanted to bar projecting images onto a wall, it could do so"

If that outlook takes hold more broadly, then there would be a whole swathe of potential issues relating to technology, communications and the internet. Government would need to come up with a lot of new law.

Better the legislature to make law than the judiciary.

That's fine. Maybe new laws are needed if it's a problem that isn't covered under current law. Laws should change with time.

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