Federal judge okays Seattle's yellow pages opt-out program

May 9, 2011

A federal judge has ruled the city of Seattle can go ahead with its effort to limit free phone books on doorsteps. Yellow pages companies were trying to block the city’s anti-phone book plan.

Almost as soon as the city of Seattle announced it was launching a website so residents could opt out of receiving unsolicited phone books, the companies that deliver those books went to court.

Dex One, the largest distributor in the city, filed a motion as part of an ongoing lawsuit to temporarily halt the opt-out program, arguing it violates the company’s First Amendment right to free speech.

But U.S. District Court Judge James Robart rejected the motion. Robart wrote:

"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 havde 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."

Robat said, even though there is some non- commercial speech in the yellow pages, for the most part the directories are commercial speech and, as such, not entitled to full First Amendment protections.

Since Seattle began its opt out program last week, 14,000 households and businesses have canceled 85,000 phone books.

Under the ordinance, phone book publishers can be fined up to $125 dollars per book if they deliver to residents who have opted out.