Seattle Can Clamp Down on Yellow Pages

SEATTLE (CN) – Seattle can ban publishers from distributing Yellow Pages to residents who don’t want them, a federal judge ruled, granting partial summary judgment to the city, which was sued by Dex Media West.

     The city heard testimony at six public meetings last year at which residents complained of receiving unwanted Yellow Pages directories, though they had specifically requested not to get them.
     In response, Seattle enacted an ordinance banning distribution of “yellow pages phone books” in the city unless the publishers follow certain conditions.
     Under the ordinance, a publisher must “obtain an annual yellow pages phone book distributor license” separate from its business license, pay Seattle 14 cents for each book distributed, and prominently display a message on the front cover of each book with information about how to opt out of receiving the phone books.
     The ordinance also created an “opt-out registry … for residents and businesses to register and indicate their desire not to receive delivery of some or all yellow pages phone books.”
     Dex Media West, SuperMedia and Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association sued the city in Federal Court, claiming the ordinance violated the First Amendment.
     U.S. District Judge James Robart disagreed. He said Yellow Pages are “commercial speech,” which is not afforded the same treatment as “noncommercial speech” under the First Amendment.
     “[V]arious forms of advertising comprise approximately 35 percent of the Dex 2010 Seattle Metro Directory and approximately 15-35 percent of SuperMedia’s Seattle area yellow pages directories,” Robart wrote.
     He found that the ordinance’s requirement to display a message about the opt-out registry “does not offend the First Amendment.”
     “The City’s required message includes only ‘purely factual and uncontroversial information’ because it simply informs residents about the availability and process of the City’s opt-out program,” the judge wrote.
     Robart said the U.S. Supreme Court, in Rowan v. U.S. Post Office Dept., (1970), “categorically reject[ed] the argument that a vendor has a right under the Constitution or otherwise to send unwanted material into the home of another.”

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