By John Howarth
I’ve been dealing with queries on imprints (the printed/published/promoted line in small print) for more years than I care to remember. It is always an issue, it is always new to some of the Agents, candidates and organisers, it can be confusing and is always a significant source of grief for someone. This blog helps you understand what is needed and why and gives some tips on the best way to avoid problems.
1. Why do we need an imprint?
Because it’s the law. An imprint is a legal requirement on all printed material published in the political sphere. Requirements for imprints have been around for many years, the current rules being formalised by the Political Parties Act during Labour’s first term in office from 1997.
2. What is the correct format of an imprint?
The law does not require a precise format but specifies the information that the imprint should contain:
The name and address of the person promoting the material
The name and address of the person(s) on whose behalf the material is promoted
The name and address of the printer.
The order in which this information is stated is immaterial
So a correct format for an imprint (for printed material) would be:
Promoted by X1 on behalf of X2 and printed by X3, where
X1 is the name and address of the promoter (normally the Agent, but where the Agent is not yet appointed convention is to use the name of the CLP Secretary or other officer)
X2 is the name and address of the candidate
X3 is the name and address of the printer
Where the candidate and agent are at the same address the format may be:
Promoted by Y1 on behalf of Y2 both at Y3 and printed by X3,
Promoted by Z1 on his/her own behalf and printed by X3
(In all imprint formats you could put the printer’s name and address first – it doesn’t matter in law so long as it is all there. You can use home or office addresses for candidate and promoter).
3. OK, but what about an imprint on behalf of more than one candidate
The law doesn’t cover every eventuality. So at the outset there was no specific advice for a situation where, say, a common piece is published for all the candidates in a local government election, or where parliamentary and local Government candidates are represented on the same item or when there are multiple agents.
Imprints to cover these situations need to confirm to the letter and spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is that it is being made clear who is publishing material and for whom. The advice of the Electoral Commission recognised that material may be promoted for an organisation as well as individuals.
So an imprint for 50 plus candidates could be:
Promoted by X1 on behalf of Yourtown Labour Party and its candidates named herein both at X2 and printed by X3.
Where X1 is the Agent, one of the Agents or a CLP Officer, where X2 is the address of the Party campaign office and where X3 is the printer’s details. In this case it is important that all the candidates ARE named in the piece.
Equally, an item such as a tabloid newspaper featuring Parliamentary and local government candidates might read:
Promoted by Y1 on behalf of Y2, Y3, Y4, and the Labour Party Candidates in the Yourtown District Council Elections 2015 all at X2 and printed by X3.
Where Y1 is one of the Agents, Y2,Y3 and Y4 are the Parliamentary Candidates, X2 is the office address and X3 is the printer information. Although this imprint does not refer to individual candidate or necessarily name them in the leaflet it does make it clear that it is on behalf of Labour Party candidates at a specific election. Under the Political Parties act ‘the Labour Party candidate’ has a specific meaning – it can only mean one thing.
4. Does the promoter have to be the Agent?
No – but it is still a good idea. The law only requires that the imprint state the name of the person promoting the material. Clearly, as in the examples above, there may be many Agents – so it is not always practical or possible that the Agent be the promoter and in any case, some candidates will not necessarily have appointed agents during the Long Campaign. However, it is good practice that wherever possible for the avoidance of doubt, particularly as declarations of expenses have to be filed by the Agent(s), that material on behalf of the candidate is promoted by Agent who is legally responsible and should authorise any material put out during the long and short campaigns.
5. Does it matter where an imprint goes?
Yes. The imprint should be on the first or last page of a document or the face of a single sided document. On a single sided document it should be on the face of the document. If your piece includes a portion intended for display in a window there should be an imprint on that face intended for display.
6. So do we need one on really big posters?
Yes. There is no absolute or relative type size requirement for imprints, but it must still be there: on a roller banner, a window bill, a sticker, whatever.
7. What about tear-off or return items?
There was once a legal case built on the absence of an imprint on a detachable part of a leaflet. Legislation does not cover every eventuality and so the law is also based on precedent set when judges interpret legislation. So to avoid problems an imprint should appear on any reply slip portion of a leaflet as well as on the main body of the leaflet.
8. What About Websites and other Digital material?
Imprint legislation has its origins in Common Law (I’m reliably informed). Needless to say all that predated the digital age. The Electoral Commission advises that websites should bear an imprint with the name of the promoter and the organisation (person) on whose behalf the digital information is published (there is no printer). The logic of the body of their advice would suggest that the imprint should be on the home page, however the nature of the web means that the homepage will not always be the first reached. If your site has a common footer on each page this is a good place to include an imprint with a link to more detail and the condition of use. Remember also that downloadable documents should also carry an imprint.
9. OK so what about Twitter?
What was I saying about legislation pre-dating the digital age? It is clearly impossible to imprint a tweet but it is equally clear that Twitter is publishing. The spirit of the law would require publishers to make clear the origin of material and those who it served. So long as a twitter feed makes clear in some why who is issuing material then an attempt has been made within the restrictions of the medium. So a web address linking to a site with publication information for the twitter feed may be the best way to ensure compliance. We’ve not been able to find any specific information on Twitter with the Electoral Commission and graphics circulated by Labour, Conservatives and other parties seem not to carry imprints at present.
10. How do we best avoid mistakes with the imprint?
The best way not to make a mistake on this is to set up a process of checking where several people sign off the imprint as present. The Agent shouldn’t be alone on this! There really is no substitute for a proper cross-check.
Public Impact will always provide help with checking your imprint – but the legal responsibility remains with the Agent or the promoter.
Note: Public Impact makes this information freely available in the spirit of free discussion free debate and journalistic inquiry but makes no warranty whatsoever of this information in any formal or official context and makes it clear that this information does not constitute legal advice in any way whatsoever and makes no warranty whatsoever to its accuracy readers should therefore be aware of the terms and conditions of use of Public Impact websites.
Futher advice on imprints is available from your Labour Regional Office. The Electoral Commission’s advice can be found on page 11 of this document.