Seattle's News Elixir

In a strongly worded brief responding to a lawsuit by three Yellow Pages companies yesterday, the city of Seattle argued that creating a system that would allow residents to opt out of phone book delivery---and charging the companies a 14.8-cent-per-book fee to set up and administer the system---does not violate the phone companies' right to free speech. (As PubliCola first reported early yesterday afternoon, the city council dropped a $148-per-ton fee for recycling the books, which the city attorney's office felt was less likely to hold up in court).

The law, the city argues, merely gives citizens the right to say no to "voluminous unwanted commercial speech that otherwise would be delivered to their doors. The Constitution does not give Plaintiffs the right to impose their publications on those who do not wish to receive it."

Noting that the primary purpose of the Yellow Pages is to sell advertising (and using a case involving a condom ad as its example), the response continues that the Supreme Court has ruled that such "commercial speech" has less constitutional protection than other speech.

It goes on, defending the opt-out registry, the 14.8-cent fee, and the licensing requirement with examples of case law involving Tupperware parties, political faxes (remember the '90s?) and alt-weeklies. Read the whole thing here.

In a statement yesterday, Yellow Pages Association president Neg Norton said that "while we think the proposed amendments are a step in the right direction and address some concerns we’ve expressed since the sponsor proposed this bill last year, the changes do not go far enough. It’s time for the City Council to simply overturn this poorly conceived law in its entirety." He pointed to the YPA's own voluntary opt-out web site,, a site city officials have said lacks any enforcement mechanism to make sure the group actually follows through.
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