This chapter, which will appear in the Oxford Handbook of New Private Law, examines the extent to which US false advertising law can be viewed as part of the private law. Its working hypothesis is that that although it can be helpful to distinguish private from public law, there is not a sharp border between the two regions. Laws that fall on the private side of the divide can be designed in light of purposes and principles commonly associated with public law, and vice versa. False advertising law provides an example. Despite the fact that it is commonly classified as public law, one can find in it structures, functions, and values commonly associated with private law.
The structural features include horizontal duties, transfer remedies, private enforcement, and judge-made rules. False advertising law is unusual in that, viewed through a private law lens, it imposes on advertisers one duty owed to two distinct categories of persons. The duty not to engage in deceptive advertising is owed both to consumers, who might be deceived by an advertisement, and to honest competitors, who might lose sales as a result of consumer deception. And the duties it imposes on advertisers differ from analogous or ancestral common law torts. Rather than a duty not to lie or utter falsehoods, advertisers have a responsibility to consumers not to cause them false beliefs. Rather than a duty not to disparage another business or its products, advertisers have a duty to competitors to play by the rules of the marketplace. That said, advertisers’ obligations to consumers and to competitors can both be understood in ethical terms familiar to the private law.
This is not to deny the differences from other areas of private law. US false advertising law lives in statutes and regulations; it is enforced by federal agencies and state attorneys general; and its rules can seem designed more to promote consumer welfare and market efficiency than to enforce interpersonal obligations or compensate for wrongful losses. And there are practical impediments to consumer lawsuits, consumer oriented remedies, and adjudicative resolution of false advertising claims. But false advertising law shows its private law roots, even if its branches extend beyond them.
False Advertising Law, in Oxford Handbook of New Private Law (Andrew Gold et al. eds., Oxford Univ. Pr. forthcoming).
Scholarly Commons Citation
Klass, Gregory, "False Advertising Law and New Private Law" (2020). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 2256.