Certain federal and state laws require notices and disclaimers be published in certain ways. The level of detail can be surprising, down to the level of font size. This article is meant to be a brief overview, not a comprehensive survey.
Have you ever received a fake check in the mail from a financial institution which, if you cash it, obligates you to pay the money back? Minnesota’s banking laws require that such instruments contain on the front and on the back, in 30-point font, the words “This is not a check.” The law does not specify what if any relief exists for a consumer who cashes but fails to repay such a check following suit by the lender. Can he/she keep the money? To be sure, a violation of this or any other of Minnesota’s consumer protection laws may be investigated by the state attorney general, leading to prosecution, potential fines and the loss of licensure.
Minnesota’s concealed weapon law allows private establishments to ban guns, but only if a notice is posted in a “conspicuous” location, and states “[OPERATOR OF PREMISES] BANS GUNS IN THESE PREMISES.” The notice must additionally be printed as follows: “black arial typeface at least 1-1/2 inches in height against a bright contrasting background that is at least 187 square inches in area.” It’s unclear what, if any, consequence would follow if a notice is printed in a smaller font size and the incorrect font. It could be a legal defense in the event of a prosecution for failing to leave the premises upon a reasonable request. Although doing so constitutes a criminal misdemeanor, the penalty for a first offense is a whopping $25. Plus, a weapon is not subject to forfeiture based on violation of this statute, for the first or any subsequent offense.
Minnesota also has a somewhat unique “safe harbor” law that protects newspapers against libel lawsuits. A person suing a newspaper for printing a damaging falsehood about himself or herself can is limited only to “special damages” (actual out of pocket, provable loss) if the newspaper fails to print a retraction, upon demand of the defamed individual. The retraction must be on the same page and in the same type as the original article, but also must have above the statement the word “RETRACTION” in 18 point or greater font. What’s not clear is how this law applies in the age of the internet. The term “newspaper” is not defined in the law, so it’s not clear that the law applies to online journals or blogs.
Minnesota is not alone in specifying certain fonts in the law. The Uniform Commercial Code is a comprehensive set of laws designed to make the laws regarding commercial trade uniform across the country. Although not every state has adopted all of its provisions, most have. One term used throughout is the word “conspicuous.” The code defines this as applied to headings to be “in capitals equal to or greater in size than the surrounding text, or in contrasting type, font, or color to the surrounding text of the same or lesser size.” When in the body of a record or display, it means contrasting type, font or color, or text set off from the surrounding verbiage by special symbols.
The list goes on and on. Which leads one to wonder, does “conspicuous” text in an age of hyperbole and media overstimulation make a bit of difference to the typical consumer? Whether it does or not, the law continues to provide a safe place for pedants and literal-minded individuals.
RETRACTION: no offense intended to the literal-minded. I’m one of you.