Yellow Pages Sues Seattle For New Law Letting People Opt-Out Of Getting The Phone Book

from the is-that-a-first-amendment-issue? dept

A few weeks ago, I walked out my front door to see a phone book dropped on the front step. I honestly couldn't remember the last time I'd seen one. But I picked it up and walked it straight over to the paper recycling bin, where I deposited it. That's what an awful lot of people do these days. Apparently, the city of Seattle passed a law recently creating a "do-not-deliver" list for residents, that would bar phone book providers from delivering the books to their homes. However, the Yellow Pages Association has now sued the city, claiming that this law is a First Amendment violation:
The complaint... asserts that the ordinance enacted last month violates the First Amendment, which prohibits government from licensing or exercising advance approval of the press, from directing publishers what to publish and to whom they may communicate, and from assessing fees for the privilege of publishing. The suit also claims that the Seattle ordinance unlawfully interferes with interstate commerce and violates the privacy rights of Seattle residents...

The Seattle ordinance unfairly singles out the Yellow Pages industry with regulations and fees that are not imposed on other media, including discriminatory license fees for the right to publish and unprecedented "advance recovery fees" that previously have been limited to toxic or hard-to-recycle materials. The ordinance also mandates that publishers turn over consumers' private information to the City of Seattle and imposes obligatory cover language dictated by the city government.
Now, I'm a pretty big First Amendment supporter, but I'm not sure how a bar on dropping a phone book on someone's property -- at their request -- is a free speech violation. Perhaps I'm missing something? In the meantime, the group actually says that it's not against letting people opt-out, and is actually creating a website to let people do just that. It just doesn't like this particular law.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 9:35am

    The City Council should...

    ...require that all publishers - advertising and otherwise - get permission before depositing any materials on private property. That would make litter opt-in instead of opt-out.

    That's not a free-speech violation. Publishers could publish whatever they live, and stack their phone books, newspapers, and pizza deal advertisements in stores that opt-in, instead of on the doorsteps of everyone else.

    In addition, making it opt-in would mean that people don't have to give up their contact information in order to opt-out. I should be forced to choose between giving personally identifiable information to God-knows-who and enduring litter.

    On that note, I'm really unsure when it became 'okay' to deposit things on private property...

     

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      Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 9:36am

      Re: The City Council should...

      I meant 'shouldn't be forced' and I wanted to add that if they really, really want people to get their ads, they should mail them through the Post Office, instead of dumping them on my lawn or doorstep.

       

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        Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 10:32am

        Re: Re: The City Council should...

        So....Yellowbook should get off your lawn?

         

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          Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 10:46am

          Re: Re: Re: The City Council should...

          My city doesn't allow Yellowbook on my lawn in the first place. They have to knock and ask if we want one. We tell them no, very politely. :)

           

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            Missing the Midwest, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 10:53am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: The City Council should...

            One of the beauties of growing up in southern Indiana (there are very few) was that after a warning shot incident with a local farmer(woo trespassing laws!), receiving the yellow pages became strictly opt-in. Not sure if it was a law or business decision though.

             

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            Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:22am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: The City Council should...

            Our phonebooks get literally hurled onto our front walk from a passing pickup.

            We have ordinances against leaving flyers under windshield wipers in public parking lots since they create litter.

            Opt-in only - I like your idea, Rose!

             

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        Berenerd (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:43am

        Re: Re: The City Council should...

        I thought of this myself and have delivered phonebooks 10+ years ago in Vermont...yeah not that heavy...Sending via the post office would cost them 8-9 times more (granted this is a crude...very crude estimation) to send via the post office than to pay someone to drop it off.

        with inflation, I figure local pay for the same phonebook would be about $.50 - $.75 per book. (most times people get a "route" and get paid for how many people are on that route much like newspaper delivery people) to ship the average phone book via commercial costs (according to the scale here at work) it would cost about 5-8 bucks depending on the bulk discounts. The other issue is the fact they might end up having to pay more because the average city mailperson can't carry large books with them for say, 20 houses like they do for mail. a "special" delivery would have to be arranged or just a note telling the person they had to go pick it up at the post office and I am SURE the city of lets say, Boston, isn't gonna want to have to store all of those things for people who will most likely not come to get it.

         

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          Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 2:17pm

          Re: Re: Re: The City Council should...

          Why not? They're the Post Office. That's what they do, for a price, whether it's a box or a book. The Post Office needs money, YellowPages needs to get phone books out, people don't need litter. Seems perfect to me.

           

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      Hulser (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:08am

      Re: The City Council should...

      On that note, I'm really unsure when it became 'okay' to deposit things on private property...

      I think this is the angle that city counsels should focus on to deal with the problem. Aren't there already laws on the books in most cities about soliciters having to register with the government before they enter a neighborhood? Well, don't tell the Yellow Pages that it's illegal to dump their books on people's doorsteps. Just tell them that they are legally considered solicitors and bury them in so much red tape that it won't be worth their while any longer. When the representatives come to city hall to register, give them the -- almost certainly very short -- list of people who have opted in to receive solicitors along with a reminder that every violation comes with a penalty of $500. Problem solved with no free speech issues.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 12:32pm

      Re: The City Council should...

      why do I have to pick up their trash they drop on my lawn? stop littering.

       

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      Westport Fishing Charter, Dec 29th, 2012 @ 4:18am

      Re: The City Council should...

      I just stumbled upon your web site and wanted to say that I've genuinely enjoyed reading your website posts.
      Good article makes constant progress, thank you share.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 10:47am

    I can see how this could be a First Amendment issue and would much rather have this settle without government intervention.

     

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      Berenerd (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:44am

      Re:

      care to expand as to why you feel this way?

       

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      Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 2:20pm

      Re:

      Your right to free speech ends on my lawn, hon, whether you're a religious whacko who's trespassing, or an ad whacko who's littering.

      In both cases, the answer is the same. Get a permit and go preach religion and/or contact information on the courthouse lawn, instead. :)

       

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        nasch (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 3:58pm

        Re: Re:

        When exactly is someone trespassing? It's not trespassing to walk up to my neighbor's house and ring the doorbell, right, even if I haven't been invited? What about lounging in their front yard? Back yard? Can I go to any non-fenced off portion of the property unless I'm told not to?

         

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          Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 4:07pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          As I stated above, it's trespassing when a religious nut walks onto my property and begins preaching. I can absolutely have the cops haul them off without violating his right to free speech. :)

           

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            nasch (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 9:34pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I would guess if you called the cops, the first thing they would want to know is if you'd asked him to leave. If you ask him to leave and he doesn't, then you would have a case to get them involved.

             

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              Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 5:47am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I guess if I called the cops, the first thing they would do is come and remove the guy from my property, and then ask to speak to me about the situation.

              That's S.O.P. in Oklahoma, anyway. :)

               

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                nasch (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 7:44am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Really, if you said there's some guy on my property and I wish he weren't there, they wouldn't even ask if you told him to leave? That's pretty stupid, because it could save a whole police response. Not saying you're wrong, just that if you're right then it's stupid. :-)

                 

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                  Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 20th, 2010 @ 6:59am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  So I should have to open my door and physically confront a strange, angry stranger before the police should respond? Really?

                  That's pretty stupid, because it seems pretty dangerous to me. I'm saying that you're wrong, because if you're right, then it's stupid.

                   

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                    nasch (profile), Nov 20th, 2010 @ 2:03pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    Sure, if you tell them you feel threatened, that's quite reasonable. But that was never brought up before and I didn't think it's the siutation we were talking about. But unless you're so scared you don't want him to know you're home, you could always open a window.

                     

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                      Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 21st, 2010 @ 9:41am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      Sure, if you tell them you feel threatened, that's quite reasonable.

                      So I have to feel threatened before I can call the police? What if I think the guy is harmless, but want the police to make sure? Or if I recognize him as the seemingly harmless & homeless religious nut that normally stands on the corner, but I want the police to record the incident?

                      But that was never brought up before and I didn't think it's the siutation we were talking about.

                      It's possible that you and I have a different idea of the harmlessness of a 'religious nut', but it seemed pretty clear to me.

                      But unless you're so scared you don't want him to know you're home, you could always open a window.

                      Or I could just call the police, so that the incident is taken care of or, at the very least, recorded. You know, the police service that I pay taxes for? :)

                      Anyway, I do see what you mean, but I disagree. Officers aren't so busy that skipping calls like this is necessary, and they triage them, anyway, so a low-priority call like this isn't going to be attended to until they have time for it. Not in Oklahoma, anyway. Maybe in a state with bigger cities?

                       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 10:53am

    Seattle should just gather up all the unwanted yellow pages and dump them at the executive offices of the YPA. Who knew dumping garbage was protected by the constitution?

     

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    Steven (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:07am

    Bad execution

    I agree with the sentiment, but not the execution. The issue shouldn't be specifically about the yellow pages. Either it should be okay to drop something off, unrequested, on somebody's property or not (I would think not).

    I personally think laws like this that single out specific groups/organizations should be illegal, but I don't think it's a first amendment issue. This seems more like a fair dealing under the law issue (assuming it's okay for anybody to drop crap off on your doorstep).

     

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    Steve R. (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:09am

    This is What is Wrong with US Marketing

    The presumption in the US, it seems, is that the "seller" (under the concept of free speech) has a right to accost anyone they so chose to sell a product. It is the consumer who should have the ability to prevent the "seller" from interfering with them.

    Free speech does not entitle anyone to inflict their message on the recipient. Furthermore, the recipient should not be forced to take proactive measures to avoid the message.

    In accosting the consumer the "seller" is interfering with the consumer's free time and transferring a degree of liability on the consumer. Mike was FORCED by the publisher to dispose of the yellow book by putting it in the recycle bin. Had he not, given today's legal insanities, Mike might have been fined for "littering".

     

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      Jose_X, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 4:24pm

      Re: This is What is Wrong with US Marketing

      That focus I think is to facilitate commerce and is not something I am sure about (I think you either have to use the post office or else have a subscriber list if you want to deliver yourself or use a high priority service through some other third party or just drop off your ads and probably no one will complain).

      The Yellow Pages doesn't like the fact they are being singled out since all of these people are presumably their customers, I guess.

       

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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:10am

    Cogent info for you, Mike, that you don't seem to have read.

    "The Seattle ordinance unfairly singles out the Yellow Pages industry with regulations and fees that are not imposed on other media, including discriminatory license fees for the right to publish and unprecedented "advance recovery fees" that previously have been limited to toxic or hard-to-recycle materials. The ordinance also mandates that publishers turn over consumers' private information to the City of Seattle and imposes obligatory cover language dictated by the city government."

    Even though it appears above. -- Anyhoo, if that's the case, then the ordinance includes other aspects which are readily seen to be questionable, even for me, and I DESPISE phone (actually advertising) books and those who print them.

     

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      out_of_the_blue, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 4:52pm

      Re: Cogent info for you, Mike, that you don't seem to have read.

      PS - I also DESPISE my willingness to circle jerk with 2 or 3 buddies up to 5 times a day.

      Now THAT's some CO-GENT info for you Mike!

       

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    Hephaestus (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:11am

    Someone mentioned to me that the yellow pages makes more money that the record labels. I see this trend to opt out of paper mail, local newspapers, and phone books as becoming a major lobbying effort very soon ... big ole Grin ...

     

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    SLK8ne, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:30am

    OK, you printed it...

    This brings up a very important part of free speech that often isn't mentioned. You have a right to say or print what you will. (within limits, kiddy porn for instance falls outside of this)

    But, just because you printed it or said it doesn't mean that anyone is REQUIRED to listen. Just because someone prints a yelllow pages, or a newspaper doesn't mean anyone is required to pay for it, or accept it.

    This is another example of the entitlement mentality of the old media. They've been getting away with forcing the yellow pages on us for so long, they feel slighted if we don't accept their waste of paper. Has nothing to do with the 1st amendment.

     

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    Mojo, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:32am

    Phone book = junk mail

    A this point the phone book is practically another piece of junk mail - something the distributor knows most people don't need or want and will be thrown away.

    If the government is serious about saving trees and protecting resources, START with getting rid of junk mail and the phone book (and by {"get rid of" I mean, like the national do-not-call list, allow residents to opt out of ALL unsolicited mail.

    I can't even begin to imagine the positive impact of bringing junk mail to an end.

     

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      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:59am

      Re: Phone book = junk mail

      Screw opt-out, make it opt-in. Why should I be forced to track these people down just to get them to stop sending me crap that kills trees? All mass solicitations on private property should be opt-in. If I want what you're selling, I will find you.

       

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        BearGriz72 (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 1:32pm

        Re: Re: Phone book = junk mail

        This PLEASE!!!!!
        I wear out shredders every 6-12 months with all the crap.

         

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        Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 2:22pm

        Re: Re: Phone book = junk mail

        Yes! As I stated above, we should require that all publishers - advertising and otherwise - to get permission before depositing any materials on private property. That would make litter - all litter - opt-in instead of opt-out. I shouldn't be forced to choose between giving personally identifiable information to God-knows-who and enduring litter.

         

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    InNH, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 11:42am

    YP Not Spammers--just the old way of doing business

    I do see that it can be argued from the interstate commerce side and the first amendment side. This is commerce and out-of-state people might be in the YPs and the YP company might be out-of-state. Also, why should the YP be singled out from being able to advertise. Until Seattle starts prohibiting every salesman from dropping off information at your house it is discrimanatory.

    At least the YP provides a service--though it's becoming less and less necessary. Once upon a time it was crucial--especially for up and coming businesses. If you weren't in the YPs, nobody knew who you were.

    Everywhere I've lived in the US (5 states, in places that could be categorized from village to metropolitan) has had the white & yellow pages combined. In that way the "yellow pages" was always a service--not spam. And before the web, you couldn't find a business without them. I used to use them regularly, but lately, maybe just once or twice a year--if that. But, lately I've had a hard time finding FREE phone numbers for local people on the web, so I might have to go back to using them. $1.95 for your neighbor's phone number anyone? Please, give me the yellow pages!

     

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    faceless (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 12:01pm

    i haven't opened a phone book in a decade

    though i've used one to prop a shaky table recently. if the ban is indeed *just* on phone books, that sounds shady, there should be a ban on everything or nothing... like those weekly sale circulars.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 12:15pm

    I think that if the phone books go away completely, so will the free phone # lookup sites.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 12:21pm

    I think the Seattle law requires YP and others in their line of work to pay for a city license to distribute their books. Regardless of the mandatory opt-out list (which I think is a great idea), that provision is pretty troubling.

     

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    mrb, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 12:29pm

    opt out

    I wanna opt out too

     

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    Rob Pegoraro (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 12:58pm

    Somebody at YPA is confused

    That organization launched its opt-out site, yellowpagesoptout.com, back in August of 2009. I used it myself not long after and haven't been stuck with a phone book since.

    - RP

     

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      Griff, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 5:18pm

      Re: Somebody at YPA is confused

      I opted out too. Found a bag of them on my doorstep recently, and on a weekend I had to travel no less.

      Thanks AT&T, do you mind NOT telling everyone that I'm not home?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 1:36pm

    I luv yellow pages they are the best raw material for paper mache anywhere yay :).

     

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    Sean, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 2:07pm

    Who still uses YP?

    I don't know when the last time I used the yellow pages to look up a numnber. All the phone books I have gotten in the past years have gone right into the recycling bin.

     

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    Jake the Snake, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 4:43pm

    Phone Books

    Do you guys know how many people use the Yellow Pages? Over half of the adult population. By stopping the delivery of these books, you would be hindering half of the people's ability to find businesses they are looking for. Yellow Pages are vital for almost all small to medium sized businesses, so taking away these businesses' ability to be found, you are condemning them to fail. I like how Mike Masnick, who wrote this story, assumes that most people throw their books away, just because he does. You have obviously not seen any usage stats on the Yellow Pages. Anyways, last thing to consider for you dummies that think the yellow pages are a waste of space...imagine you get a broken pipe in your house and the house floods (obviously damaging your computer), without the computer, how else would you expect to find a plumber or flood control company in this emergency? Your answer is Yellow Pages, if it's not, then you're an idiot.

     

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      Any Mouse, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 6:41pm

      Re: Phone Books

      It's an opt-out situation, not a ban. But of course you didn't read that part in your efforts to slam Mike, did you?

       

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    Jake the Snake, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 4:46pm

    RE: Phone Books

    Oh yeah, don't forget...my friend Bill Noone uses the Yellow Pages too!

     

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    Tarheel, Apr 1st, 2011 @ 4:48am

    Yellow Pages

    I think yellow pages suits all of the local marketers who are seeking for a good source of advertising of their business in an easy way.

     

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    Tarheel, Apr 1st, 2011 @ 4:51am

    Yellow Pages

    I think yellow pages suits all of the local marketers who are seeking for a good source of advertising of their business in an easy way.

     

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