Yellow Pages Sues Seattle For Letting Residents Opt-Out Of Getting Phone Books

A few weeks ago we wrote about the recently passed ordinance in Seattle that would create a do-not-deliver list for residents who no longer want to receive the doorstop that is the phone book. Now we hear from the Yellow Pages Association that they have filed a lawsuit alleging that the regulations violate their right to free speech.

From a statement sent to Consumerist:

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.

“We agree that residents should have a choice of whether they receive a Yellow Pages directory, but the Seattle City Council has passed a law that violates the most basic freedom in the United States,” said the Yellow Pages Assoc. president, adding that the organization is already working on a site, yellowpagesoptout.com, that would allow people in any municipality to opt-out and would make Seattle’s online registry redundant.

“The City of Seattle should treat us no differently than other media including newspapers, magazines, direct mail, billboards and television,” says the YPA president.

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  1. ellmar says:

    Publish all the crap you want Yellow Pages, just stop littering my doorstep with it!

    • ssaoi says:

      I think this says it all.

    • myCatCracksMeUp says:

      Amen!

      And it’s especially annoying when I go on vacation and go to the effort of having my mail delivery stopped, not ordering anything that will be delivered while I’m gone, having my lights on timers in the house, etc, to make sure it’s not obvious that I’m away, and then having the stupid, crappy Yellow Pages tossed into the middle of my driveway after I leave, sitting there until I get back.

    • edman007 says:

      That’s probably a better way to do it, let them mail it to anyone they want, and then whack them with a littering fine for every book they put outside that wasn’t accepted.

    • Mom says:

      Seriously. The free “newspapers” that I’m subjected to practically daily fit into this category too. I’ve thought about going to the city council to see if they can go after these guys for littering.

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      Yeah, I’m kind of surprised they’re going the legal route. Since phone books aren’t distributed through the postal system, I’d think that disobeying a previous opt-out request could be considered trespassing. This is probably meant to be annoying enough of a lawsuit to get the city to agree to do something else, and they have no desire to see the inside of a courtroom.

      I thought private citizens had “freedom not to listen” as a corollary of free speech, but I don’t remember now WHY I thought that, so maybe not.

      And anyway, doesn’t Yellow Pages provide its own way of opting out (even though it’s a hassle to do)?

      • sonneillon says:

        Except that the city already pays lawyers whether or not they are working, so they generally can care less about the lawsuit. They are already paying the attorneys and if they pay the court costs they are essentially paying themselves.

      • Griking says:

        “And anyway, doesn’t Yellow Pages provide its own way of opting out (even though it’s a hassle to do)?”

        I too wish that they’d allow an opt out ability but as soon as they were to offer this the amount that they can charge for advertising in the yellow pages would probably plummet.

    • UnicornMaster says:

      Or, grab a dump truck and pick them up from everyone who doesn’t want one…. Then drop it at the entrance of their building and offices.

  2. TuxthePenguin says:

    “The City of Seattle should treat us no differently than other media including newspapers, magazines, direct mail…” (because they aren’t like billboards and television)

    First, newspapers/magazines aren’t delivered to everyone regardless whether they want it or not. Only subscribers get the newspaper. Others are put in public locations where people can buy one if they choose. So would you rather that? Let people inform you that they want one, then stack them in special cases for those who decide they want to buy one to?

    Or if you want to be treated like direct mail, then you should send the books through the postal system – Lord knows they need the revenues.

    • myteebay says:

      This.

    • obits3 says:

      I think that Yellow Pages general First Amendment case is BS. That said, there may be some issues with these unprecedented “advance recovery fees.” If the city is imposing fees/taxes on Yellow Pages that do not happen to be imposed on other publishers, then the city should stop.

      “The ordinance also mandates that publishers turn over consumers’ private information…”

      This looks to be another tricky issue, but I’m not sure that Yellow Pages has standing. The consumers would for sure have standing, but I’m not sure about Yellow Pages.

    • Tim says:

      Actually, some free papers are delivered to everyone, regardless of whether they ask. I think you can opt out in my cases, but I’m not sure if it’s a legal requirement to be able to opt out.

      • nealbscott says:

        Correct my neighborhood gets a free newspaper as well. Unfortunately, the vacant/foreclosed homes gets them too and the paper just piles up at the end of the driveway.

    • fdamstra says:

      “The City of Seattle should treat us no differently than other media including newspapers, magazines, direct mail…”

      Actually, I hope they go this route. Why should opt-out only apply to the yellow pages? Let me opt out to all the useless waste of trees that people hang from my mailbox.

      I suspect that it’s hard to write such a law that doesn’t have loopholes but still treats everyone fairly.

    • Posthaus says:

      They actually used the Postal Service to distribute phone books to residential customers for a time; they were still doing it when I started my employment and let me tell you it was HELL. They stopped a few years ago when they decided it was cheaper to use temp workers to do it.

      They do still distribute books to businesses and new residences through the mail.

    • qualityleashdog says:

      If they would use the mail to deliver the books, I (or any postal customer) could stop Yellow Pages from ever delivering another thing to your address with a USPS Form 1500, an application for a prohibitory order. I’ve stopped several of my most serious junk mail offenders that repeatedly send me garbage. I started when I got tired of receiving all the store flyers and coupons once a week from Valassis. Every Tuesday, it was a pile of crap shoved through my mail slot, spread all over my floor that I was forced to pick up and throw in the landfill. I thought I didn’t have to live like that, and I was right!

  3. IphtashuFitz says:

    How is setting up an opt-out system a violation of their free speech rights? These people say they don’t want the book, so stop pestering them with it. Simple enough.

    • Murph1908 says:

      This was my thought.

      The city isn’t saying you can’t print it and distribute it. You just can’t distribute it to people who have said they don’t want it.

    • nbs2 says:

      It isn’t and they aren’t saying it is. They are complaining about the other measures in the ordinance that have the effect of chilling their right to free speech through (among other things) special assessments that they are being required to pay while other “speakers” of the same type are not being assessed.

    • stormbird says:

      Free speech law has recently evolved to require people to listen if you have something to say. Research:

      Loud Cell Phone Talker v Everyone at Starbucks
      Precious Snowflake v Me at Library
      Slutty Teen v I Just Want To Take My Preteen Nieces To The Park Without Them Knowing About your Naughty Bits
      Stormbird (who really should switch to decaf) v Everyone Reading This Post.

    • Posthaus says:

      Did the free speech arguement work against Do-Not-Call registries?

    • dg says:

      The simple solution is that it’s not violating their rights. The government didn’t issue the opt-out request, the RECIPIENT did. All the government did was to process the order of the recipient. All the sender/printer has to do is to comply with the order – they know PRECISELY what they can and can not do, and what they must and must not do.

      That some perceived important message may be missed by the recipient as a result of their desire to opt-out is THEIR business.

      This issue has been addressed in a couple of law suits that went to the US Sup Ct back in the 70’s, and dealt with the Prohibitory Orders that you can file against any mailer, and use to declare their items to be a pandering and/or erotic advertisement.

  4. MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

    “[T]he organization is already working on a site, yellowpagesoptout.com, that would allow people in any municipality to opt-out and would make Seattle’s online registry redundant.”

    Are they working very seriously on it, though?

  5. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Before the comments start flying, keep in my Yellow Pages is not arguing with the opt-out program. Apparently some other stipulations accompanied that aspect of the law.

    RTFA.

  6. MamaBug says:

    Sounds like YP is whiny because people have figured out how to work them complicated things like “google” and their own “yellowpages.com”.

    • stormbird says:

      I actually used the phone book last month when the internet was down and I wanted to order a pizza. First time I used a local one in five years, maybe.

      • coren says:

        I used it today to look up the power company’s number (because the power, and thus internet, was out). Of course, they don’t change the number that often, so I’d only need one every few years.

  7. MutantMonkey says:

    So because “YP” can’t get their opt-out program working in a reasonable time frame, they are going to sue because someone else did?

    GTF over yourselves. Few people want you garbage book. Google has streamlined your process. It is time you come to terms with that and either evolve or go extinct.

  8. 5seconds says:

    The problem with the arguement that Yellow Pages is making, is that it isn’t the government that is seeking to opt anyone out, it is the individuals themselves.

    No one is telling Yellow Pages who they can communicate with EXECPT for the people they are trying to communicate with, and last time I checked, any individual can ask anyone else to stop throwing trash on their doorsteps.

  9. OmniZero says:

    Citing freedom of the press? Does this mean the Yellow Pages can get press passes to things? If so, I’ll join the Yellow Pages just for that.

  10. zombie70433 says:

    By yellow page’s logic, couldn’t NAMBLA make a magazine & put a copy on everyone’s doorstep?

  11. A.Mercer says:

    “The City of Seattle should treat us no differently than other media including newspapers, magazines, direct mail, billboards and television,” says the YPA president.

    Ok, then let them mail the stupid things if they want.

  12. catpie says:

    The people have spoken. No one wants your massive block of dead trees. Now, next order of business: how can I get the Seattle Times to quit dumping their wad of advertising materials in my driveway? It always ends up in a puddle, and the thin plastic wrap does nothing except make me curse at having to peel it off before I can recycle the mess. These ugly packets of litter end up in the street, in ditches and everywhere else. It should be against the law to toss garbage in my yard.

  13. Bearzooka says:

    Wow, this is the definition of a frivolous lawsuit…..if i don’t want a giant book delivered without permission to my doorstep, I shouldn’t have to get it. Just another example of ‘cry baby law suits’ from big corporations

  14. diasdiem says:

    The city should retaliate by citing Yellow Pages for a couple hundred thousand littering and vandalism offenses.

  15. The cake is a lie! says:

    Environmentally conscious people may resent the wasted paper being dropped at their doorstep. I haven’t said to myself “where is that phonebook” in over 10 years and would love to stop receiving them. They go right from my porch to the recycle can every time one shows up. I took my business out of the yellow pages five years ago and didn’t even see a blip in business decrease. In fact, it has gone up at the same rate for 8 years and none of that is attributed to Yellow Page exposure. The junk mail and telemarketing calls have decreased since I pulled the ads too, so there really is no advantage for me. I’m not trying to drum up business from people who don’t know how to use the internet to find me.

  16. Nighthawke says:

    The judge will toss this out before the ink has dried on the pages.

  17. AllanG54 says:

    I suspect they charge by how many copies that they guarantee are delivered much as in the way a newspaper or magazine does. Now, if half the city doesn’t want a copy they can’t charge as much so profits are down quite a bit. And those ads are expensive. Even a one line ad with just the basic name, number and address can be over $200/mo. So, I think this is more a money thing than a freedom of speech argument though saying that would never allow them to get into court.

  18. salviati says:

    So, they are objecting to a VOLUNTARY opt-out list for consumers who don’t want to waste the energy and resources of distributing YP books (that they’ll never use). If YP want to make this a First Amendment issue, they should be forced to send these books through the USPS like everyone else has to.

  19. TBGBoodler says:

    Will direct mail marketers now sue the postal service because they are violating their right to “free” speech by charging postage? Jeesh.

  20. Rick says:

    Leave it to AT&T to sue someone.

  21. balthisar says:

    I agree that it’s a first amendment issue up to this point: their distributors don’t follow the “no handbills” laws that are my right on private property to no receive their crap. Let them pay the US postal service, so I can throw the phone book in the trash can with the rest of the junk mail.

  22. lacabaleza says:

    Ok, and I checked their yellowpagesoptout.com site and for my zip code (admittedly not in Seattle) it gave me no fewer than seven companies that I would then need to contact myself to “adjust the number of copies” that I received. It was kind enough to give me the contact info for three of them.

    In other words, not exactly a straight forward opt out.

  23. dragonfire81 says:

    I hate to be an apologist for the business, but they pretty much had to do this. With the law passed, their circulation drops substantially. That means they’ll have to drop their advertising rates accordingly because the audience will have decreased. A lawsuit at least draws attention to the thing and allows Yellowpages to try and sway public opinion (or at least the opinion of a few properly connected people) to it side.

    I agree it is only delaying the inevitable, but a lot of media companies will fight to death to attempt to preserve an outdated business model.

    • kc2idf says:

      Perhaps, but by that logic, the buggywhip manufacturers would have been right to sue the automakers. (Maybe they did; I don’t know).

  24. Boven says:

    Comparing themselves to newspapers and magazines is rather silly. When I got the print newspaper, I contacted them, paid them, and received the paper I subscribed to. It didn’t just get tossed on my doorstep for free and out of the blue. Catalogs I get in the mail, so the companies behind them spent money to get them to me. If I don’t order from them for a long time, the company stops sending them since it’s not profitable.

    I really don’t understand how the Yellow Pages business model works nowadays. Sure, businesses pay to be listed, but how do they even know that anyone looks at the books? On rare occasions I’ve been asked by a business “How did you hear about/find us?” But how often does that info get passed on to the Yellow Pages?

    So send the Yellow Pages out via the mail or include a prepaid return postage label with them so those of us who don’t want the books can send them back.

  25. ellemdee says:

    How does YP think their book is even relevant to most people anymore? Allow those who want it to keep getting it, and allow those who don’t want it to opt out. Why should we be forced to process/recycle their books for them? They know people don’t need it, but they can sell more ads if they can claim high circulation numbers, even if “circulation” mean delivering it to people who will immediately get rid of it.

    I get phone books from at least two different companies, and at least one of those delivers the exact same book in two different sizes. I keep the mini one and get rid of the rest. I have used it once, and only because my internet was down. If I hadn’t had it, I would have just called someone to look up the number for me. I occasionally use the phone book when on vacation if I don’t know the area well, but that’s it. It’s just a huge waste of paper, gas to deliver, energy to recycle, space in the landfill (for those that don’t recycle), etc. to deliver a huge stack of paper to people who don’t want it.

  26. scurvycapn says:

    How does signing up not to receive something violate one’s privacy? That’s ridiculous. I hate when stuff is left on my doorstep.

    I remember when if you didn’t subscribe to the newspaper, you didn’t get anything. Nowadays, not subscribing means getting advertisements with a few coupons delivered to your doorstop. I sent emails, but they kept on coming. I was tempted to just collect them for months on end and then dump them all on the front lawn of the newspaper’s building.

  27. dush says:

    If they want to be treated like the others then they need to behave like the others.
    Let us stop delivery or cancel or put it on hold without some law being passed.

  28. JayPhat says:

    Yes, and with other forms of media, i.e. newspapers, you can tell them to stop leaving you uncolicited crap on your doorstep, front yard, or driveway, yet the yellow pages seem to feel they are above that.

  29. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    The Seattle gov’t shouldn’t have an opt-out program that targets ONLY the Yellow Pages. If it doesn’t affect all door stoop advertisers then don’t do it. Why can’t people just opt out directly at the Yellow Pages website?

    Yellow Pages will be dinged 14 cents for every book delivered to pay for this gov’t registry. At that price it may be cheaper to use USPS bulk mail.

  30. popsnicker says:

    Last time I received a yellow pages the delivery person stole an Amazon package off my front porch. Good times.

  31. Larraque eats babies says:

    Dear Yellow Pages,

    No book for me, I have the internet.

    Sincerely,
    Everyone.

  32. headhot says:

    You have a right to speech, but not to be listened to. If you drop a yellow pages on my door step, its going in the recycling bin.

    Also you have no right to litter, which is what I consider a yellow pages sitting on my door step.

  33. DH405 says:

    This is all about their “right” to force the book on people who don’t want it. The city didn’t say they couldn’t PUBLISH it, the city said they can’t push it on people who choose not to have it.

    A law against rape isn’t a law against your freedom of sexual expression.

  34. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    “We agree that residents should have a choice of whether they receive a Yellow Pages directory, but the Seattle City Council has passed a law that violates the most basic freedom in the United States,”

    They do have a choice. Lots of them choose not to get your book. Case closed. Now STFU and GTFO.

  35. dolemite says:

    Under that logic, the Do Not Call database and other similar things are unconstitutional as well.

  36. beandog says:

    Whenever I get a yellow pages book, I’ll leave it on my doorstep forever, since I figure the only time I need it is when I lock myself out.

  37. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    Does this mean I can also opt out of having Chinese restaurants, pizza places, and churches from leaving fliers in my door or under my windshield wiper?

    • dg says:

      In many communities – the answer is YES. Check to see if your community has a No Soliciting ordinance, or a No Handbills ordinance. Many also prohibit distribution of handbills placed under windshield wipers or otherwise attached to vehicles…

  38. Jasen says:

    There is one solution that will work:
    Everyone who got a phone book that they don’t want, take it to the local Yellow Pages office and drop it on their doorstep.
    After a few thousand of them have built up. they might start to rethink their brilliant strategy.

    • Lowcifur says:

      Just recommending that infringes on their rights…and me doing it infringes on yours, and you reading this infringes on mine. Everything infringes on everyone!!!

      /madness

      It would be very interesting to see their reaction something like that, “hough. I imagine it would be the the corporate version of a spit-take, followed by a popped monocle, then a chorus of “Well, I never!’

  39. Horselady says:

    I would LOVE to be able to opt out of phone book deliveries,
    ALL of the different ones. How many yellow page books are needed?

    Besides, they are all readily available in stores…….

    They go straight from my driveway into the recycle bin.

  40. Telekinesis123 says:

    Their right to free speech, who, the corporation? Corporations do not have a right to free speech, only individuals (natural persons) do. They registered their corporation.

  41. PeteWa says:

    How are our rights violated when we Opt-Out (of our own accord) of this waste of paper and space on my front porch?

    This regulation supports my individual needs vs letting them throw something at me that I do not want. Do Not Want.

  42. tlingitsoldier says:

    So does this mean that I can’t sue them because it violates their 1st amendment rights but I could sue them for having their employees trespassing on my property? They don’t use the Postal Service where I live. Just some random people driving around neighborhoods littering everyone’s doorsteps with these things.

  43. jedifarfy says:

    Uh, where in there is a First Amendment rights violation? The city council passed a law allowing citizens to tell you to STOP giving them the phone book. You don’t have to stop printing it, you just have to stop giving it to certain people. Life = not ruined or violated.

  44. Plasmafox says:

    Freedom to say what you want != dumping piles of ads on people’s doorsteps.

  45. FenrirIII says:

    I use these to make furniture. A little wood-glue, some scaffolding, and BAM! Free furniture (so long as you like yellow).