Yellow Pages Fights Seattle Opt-Out Law

SEATTLE (CN) – Yellow Pages publishers claim Seattle is unconstitutionally regulating distribution of phone books, with an ordinance that allows residents to refuse delivery, and requires publishers to be licensed. Dex Media West, SuperMedia, and Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association claim the ordinance “singles out yellow pages” and will have an “unprecedented” impact on freedom of the press.




     According to the federal complaint: “The ordinance singles out yellow pages, as no other publications are subject to the ordinance’s requirements, or similar requirements, regardless of the other publications’ relative contribution to recycling volumes or city expense; their percentage of advertising; or the frequency or length of time that Seattle residents retain them. The ordinance does not distinguish between advertising and other information in the directories. Further, the ordinance exempts certain favored yellow pages publishers, as well as companies and individuals that distribute but do not publish yellow pages. Instead, the ordinance targets publishers who are not local and are less politically powerful. Its impact on publishers and freedom of the press is direct, not incidental; intentional; and unprecedented.”
     The ordinance requires publishers to obtain a license, pay fees based on the number of copies and weight of the books, and provide an “opt-out” registry website.
     “The Ordinance also requires publication of information designated by the Director of Seattle Public Utilities on the cover of each yellow pages directory and on each publisher’s website. Under the Ordinance, publishers must turn over to the City the names and contact information of those who have privately told the publishers that they do not wish to receive their publications. The Ordinance also requires creation of a City-controlled website, funded by and targeted at plaintiffs and other yellow pages publishers, through which residents can invoke the City’s official power in halting the receipt of yellow pages directories but no other publications.”
     But the Yellow Pages crews insist: “The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits government from licensing or exercising advance approval of the press, from directing publishers what to publish and to whom to communicate, from assessing taxes or fees for the privilege of publishing, from enforcing the desire of citizens to avoid communications, from prying into citizens’ preferences regarding communications they seek to avoid, and from deciding the value of a publication’s content. Plaintiffs bring this action because City of Seattle Ordinance 123427 violates these and other constitutional guarantees.”
     The publishers say they will “suffer irreparable constitutional and economic injury” if the ordinance is not overturned. Most provisions of the ordinance become effective Jan. 1, 2011; licenses must be obtained by April 1, 2011.
     The publishers are represented by David Burman with Perkins Coie.

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