Commercial speech

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Commercial speech is speech done on behalf of a company or individual for the intent of making a profit. It is economic in nature and usually has the intent of convincing the audience to partake in a particular action, often purchasing a specific product. Generally, the United States Supreme Court defines commercial speech as speech that "proposes a commercial transaction." Additionally, the Court developed a three factor inquiry in determining whether speech is commercial in Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products; however, those factors have yet to be utilized in any other Supreme Court case dealing with commercial speech.

The idea of "Commercial Speech" was first introduced by the Supreme Court when it upheld Valentine v. Chrestensen (1942). In upholding the regulation, the Supreme Court said, "We are … clear that the Constitution imposes … no restraint on government as respects purely commercial advertising."

In a 1978 decision, Ohralik v. Ohio State Bar Ass'n, the Court offered this defense:

We have not discarded the "common-sense" distinction between speech proposing a commercial transaction, which occurs in an area traditionally subject to government regulation, and other varieties of speech. To require a parity of constitutional protection for commercial and noncommercial speech alike could invite dilution, simply by a leveling process, of the force of the Amendment's guarantee with respect to the latter kind of speech. Rather than subject the First Amendment to such a devitalization, we instead have afforded commercial speech a limited measure of protection, commensurate with its subordinate position in the scale of First Amendment values, while allowing modes of regulation that might be impermissible in the realm of noncommercial expression.

There are those on the Supreme Court that disagree with this "common-sense" distinction, though. Justice Clarence Thomas replied, in 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island (1996), that "I do not see a philosophical or historical basis for asserting that 'commercial' speech is of 'lower value' than 'noncommercial' speech."

Federal judge Alex Kozinski stated, in regard to the 1942 ruling, "the Supreme Court plucked the commercial speech doctrine out of thin air."

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Further reading[edit]

  • Joanna Krzeminska-Vamvaka, Freedom of commercial speech in Europe, Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac 2008 - comparative analysis of commercial speech regulation in the US, EU, under ECHR, in Germany and Poland
  • Stephen M. Worth, "'Do Not Call' Laws and the First Amendment: Testing the Limits of Commercial Free Speech Protection", J. Small & Emerging Bus. 2003