Could a Billboard Invade Privacy?

Some time ago, Stay Free! Magazine published an essay by 1960s ad-man Howard Gossage. In it, Gossage rejects aesthetic arguments against billboards, and instead argues that billboards are a coercive form of advertising that violate individuals’ privacy. Check it:

“…there is a very real question whether it has title to its domain. Outdoor advertising is peddling a commodity it does not own and without the owner�s permission: your field of vision. Possibly you have never thought to consider your rights in the matter. Nations put the utmost importance on unintentional violations of their air space. The individual�s air space is intentionally violated by billboards every day of the year.

“But doesn’t everything visible violate one�s air space? Not at all. Visibility is not the only consideration. The Taj Mahal, street signs, the Golden Gate Bridge, a maze of telephone wires, even a garbage dump�however they may intrude on the eye�are not where they are merely to waylay your gaze; they have other functions as well. A billboard has no other function, it is there for the sole and express purpose of trespassing on your field of vision. Nor is it possible for you to escape; the billboard inflicts itself unbidden upon all but the blind or recluse. Is this not an invasion of privacy? I think it is, and I don�t see that the fact that a billboard is out-of-doors make the slightest difference. Even if it were possible for you to not look at billboards if you didn�t so choose, why in the world should you have to make the negative effort? Moreover, this invasion of your privacy is compounded in its resale to a third party. It is as though a Peeping Tom, on finding a nice window, were to sell peeps at two bits a head.

“Thus we see that what the industry has to sell doesn�t really belong to it. It belongs to you…