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Yellow Pages Publishers Can’t Stop Opt-Out Law

(CN) - Seattle residents can opt out of receiving unwanted yellow-page directories, a federal judge ruled, denying a preliminary injunction sought by publishers.

Dex Media West, SuperMedia LLC and the Yellow Pages Association filed a federal lawsuit after the city passed an ordinance requiring phone book distributors to obtain a license, pay a fee and provide an opt-out registry.

The publishers sought an injunction, claiming the law violates the First Amendment. U.S. District Judge James Robart rejected that bid Monday but has not yet ruled on the underlying suit.

In his ruling, Robart wrote that the directories were commercial speech, and "common sense - the touchstone of the commercial speech doctrine - dictates that the yellow pages directories should not receive the highest level of protection afforded by the First Amendment."

Robart also found the publishers were unlikely to suffer irreparable harm and failed to prove an injunction would be in the public interest.

"Here, any First Amendment impact on the public, to the extent there is such an impact at all, would be limited because the Ordinance will not prevent delivery to any City residents who wish to receive yellow pages directories," the 26-page decision states. "Further, the Ordinance was enacted in large measure after considerable public testimony that plaintiffs' opt-out system was ineffective and that unwanted deliveries by plaintiffs violated City residents' right to privacy and generated large amounts of waste," the ruling says.

"Because plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their First Amendment claim, because any First Amendment impact on the public is limited, and because the City and its residents have competing public interests in privacy and waste reduction, the court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that a preliminary injunction is in the public interest," Robart wrote. "Accordingly, the court denies plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction on this ground as well."

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