Are Phone Books a Right? Yellow Page Publishers Sue Seattle

photo dex yellow pages phone book recycling
Flickr user m_e_mccarron calls phone books 'the height of 1980s technology'

Let your fingers do the walking ... to the courthouse. As promised, Yellow Page publishers have sued to overturn a law in Seattle that lets people opt out of receiving paper phone books. The publishers say the law, the first of its kind in the U.S., is unconstitutional. Dex One Corp., SuperMedia and the Yellow Pages Association argue in a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington that the Seattle ordinance "restricts publishers' fundamental right to free speech."

The First Amendment 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," attorneys say.

The suit also claims that the Seattle ordinance unlawfully interferes with interstate commerce and violates the privacy rights of Seattle residents.

All of which might make you wonder: Since when is unwanted litter a right? If people don't want one or more phonebooks dropped off at their house, isn't it their right to opt out of the deliveries? Especially when there's something called the Internet, where phone numbers are easy to come by?

The Yellow Pages people say they recognize that some folks don't want paper phone books anymore, but the Seattle law also is unfair in that it requires publishers to pay the cost of recycling old phone books, and the cost of creating a city-wide opt-out system.

"Even as we oppose the ordinance in court, we are moving forward with plans to provide a first-class, national consumer choice website at," says Neg Norton, president of the Yellow Pages Association.

"This website will easily enable consumers to opt-out of unwanted phonebooks and will add no costs to taxpayers anywhere --- in Seattle or across the country."

Are you convinced? Should the city of Seattle be allowed to act on its own? Did the city go too far in attaching the fees? How about selling phone books at the store to folks who want them?

Norton tells the Seattle Times that if other cities are allowed to follow Seattle's lead, it will confuse consumers and create a patchwork of rules and opt-out websites. The city plans to fight the lawsuit.

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