telescum tape label

Vertical Litter

and Sign Sharking

Definitions and Links

operator logo 46K] [Houston][Houston]

What it is

(some definitions)

"Vertical litter"
is merely a description of poster advertisements placed at opportune places, such as telephone poles, along roadways and other opportune places. In general this focuses on commercial postings, as opposed to postings which are of the nature of community "bulletin board" postings.

Various websites and groups distinguish such things as "lost cat" and "garage sale" ads in that they are generally considered less offensive because they are generally accepted by local communities. They are less likely to violate local codes.

"Commercial" in the context of vertical litter and sharking means business and organization promotion other than temporary "yard sale" and realtor "open house" signs. Most municipalities provide exemptions for such signs. Hint: If you're looking for your "lost cat", look under your porch or just find another one. Your cat cannot read a "lost cat" and once lost, will not approach another person.

generally means removing of vertical litter.

Originally, the term, "sharking" referred to the practice of cutting contact information out of the signs (in the manner of a shark bite). The sharking issue is described briefly below. So "sharking" can mean generally removing signs or specifically "sharking the contact information from" signs.

People who remove signs (all or part) are "sign sharkers". Removing contact information is "sharking contact information" from signs. Removing signs is "tearing down signs".

"Sharking Stick"
a pole with a bolt or similar arrangement to conveniently remove vertical litter.

"Sharking" Contact Information from Signs

This tactic has mixed advantages and disadvantages, so I would urge that sharking of contact information only if there is a reason to shark contact information instead of the entire sign.
Reasons to Remove the Entire Sign

Advantages to Sharking Contact Information

In general, the best way to remove a sign is to simply remove the sign. If they disappear from your neighbourhood, those posting the signs will get the idea that the signs don't stay there.

Many municipalities solved the problem by charging the advertisers fees for removing the signs.

Where I used to live, owners of signs are fined $600.00 per occurrence (per sign). For some strange reason I hadn't seen a single large telephone pole sign there in three years. I guess the Main Line towns have priced themselves out of the market. (Having 13 colleges or universities in the area doesn't help the signs' longevity either.) Point out to your local ward healer that municipalities which charge high per-violation fees don't have problems with vertical litter.

Contrast that to Houston (Texas). For the first violation, businesses get a cheery warning:

"notices are issued to businesses that repeatedly place an excessive number of signs in the right-of-way."
(Houston City Webpage)
      "... p.s., Thanks for doing your part to help make our city look like a dump."
Then they get charged with a misdemeanor with a fine of between $300 and $500. The website doesn't say, but this is probably an aggregate fine, and not a "per violation" fine. The message is that it is very economical to post signs in Houston:

Stick-On Small Card Holders

These are typically plastic stick-on carriers with small cards touting "get-rich-quick" schemes and the like.

Usually it's best to take them down; however I saw one creative approach involving moving the card carriers:

The card carrier was obviously moved from its original location to a shroud housing for a pay phone. The pay phone location was apparently intentional because one set of cards had "call from pay phone" grafitti-marked on the carrier. (Toll-free calls provide the caller's number to the called party, so the advice to call from a pay phone is well-taken.)

There is one major problem with calling toll-free numbers from a pay phones -- the business with the toll-free number pays a surcharge for each call. Pay"phone calls to toll-free numbers cost from $0.60 to $2.00 per call surcharge (to the owner of the toll-free number). In this case, someone had moved several of these card carriers to pay phones. So someone waiting for a train for 10 minutes can easily rack up $30 or more trying to get a live person (instead of an answering machine) at the other end. These fees are paid by the person with the "get rich quick" scheme, but fortunately help support the pay phone industry.

Sharking Tools

These range from a simple 2x4 with a bolt to modifications of telescoping paint roller extension poles. This is for signs mounted "out of reach". Obviously if you live in an area where someone climbing on the back of a truck to post these signs would sooner or later be arrested, a sharking stick wouldn't be very useful -- there won't be any signs that require a sharking stick.

Here's the "Sharker Image" Tool Catalog at the CAUSS website. This includes various descriptions of sharking sticks ranging from 2x4s with bolts to painter's extension poles modified (in one example) to hold a rattlecan of spray paint.

An Atlanta group, suggests using a "sturdy" garden rake. There are two problems with that:

  1. Many garden rakes are not.
  2. If used to pull the sign straight down, you are liable to get ka-klunked on the head with the sign. The rake must be used at an angle to avoid the "Get Hit Quick" (by the sign) syndrome.

Sometimes the signs can be "de-cycled", my favorite for this being the ones mounted to a small wire tellis. I've used the signs for on-site event directions and utility pads. Maybe I can't read, but I think most of the local ones say "free tomato plant trellis."

What Municipalities Can Do

Enforce existing laws
This includes holding the advertisers liable. Absent a specific exception written into a statute, both the offending advertiser and the contractor who physically put up the sign are liable. This is a joint enterprise and joint enterprises to violate the law are defined as conspiracies. Enforcement includes:
1. Charging all conspirators.
I don't understand the excuse of "we need sponsor liability laws". Unless there is a specific exemption, the people who pay to put up a sign are already liable. This is not a case of using "due care" since the sponsor already knows the signs are being posted illegally. So how difficult could that be to prosecute?
2. Charging separate violations (separate counts) for each sign. These are not Burma Shave signs; each individual sign is a separate violation. 3. Charging for removal costs in addition to fines. This also holds "innocent" violators liable for costs. 4. Limiting "warnings" to exceptional cases (with full costs assigned to the violator). 5. Establishing at least one "anti-blight" procedure by which to report and cite violators. 6. Notifying the police department that sign posters are violating the law. 7.

Set meaningful "per violation" fines.
Where I had lived, in Merion Twp, PA, the "per violation" fine was $600. (see link below.) I have not seen one free-standing or telephone pole sign in 3 years there. These substantial per-violation fines have been effective elsewhere (obviously with higher fines.) Compare that to the Houston images, above.

Let citizens know who to call if they see a sign which the city hadn't removed
There are companies who post signs in areas which permit "weekend signs". Theoretically the signs are removed after the weekend. Fortunately, good enforcement will make sure that happens.

Sharking Links

The leading "sharking" site is (CAUSS).
An explanation is best described in their "FAQ" page.

Here's a partial-mirror site for them. semi-mirror site

Stephen's Street Spam Page1
Another anti-sharking page. The author disagrees in some of the details of the CAUSS tactics, but certainly agrees with the CAUSS cause.

rainbodeklown's site
This shows examples of "sharking" of contact information. It seems like a lot of work, but like I said, I don't even have these signs where I live.
WARNING: The embedded MIDI plug-in may lock up your computer.
Lower Merion Twp., PA code § 133-2.1
Okay, I was wrong about the $300 per-violation penalty. The code says "... not more than $600 for each and every offense". It works.

sign sharking HOWTOs
back to Counter-Telemarketing Tactics

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site first posted November 3, 1996
This website can be found by searching for "The Telemarketing Scum Page" on a search engine.

rev 2-May-2018 copyright 2006, S. Protigal

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