Yellow Pages ruling endangers sci-fi ban

San Francisco’s pioneering legislation to launch a pilot program to ban unwanted distribution of phone books appears to be coming back to the drawing board after a federal court overturned a similar order on Monday in Seattle.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized that many see bulky phone books as historical relics in the age of internet search engines, but said the Yellow Pages still deserve First Amendment protections.

“The First Amendment does not make protection dependent on the perceived value of certain speeches,” the court wrote.


Supervisor David Chiu, author of the San Francisco ordinance, said he strongly disagreed with the decision.

“This is an unfortunate misread of the First Amendment, and it protects the giant polluting businesses that litter our doors in San Francisco with 1.6 million pounds of unwanted yellow pages every year,” he said. .

Both sides said Monday’s decision doomed San Francisco’s chances of seeing its legislation upheld in court because it is stronger than the Seattle ordinance. But Chiu said the city would not give up on plans to reduce phone book waste and said he would work to “assess what changes might be needed.”

Pilot program

The San Francisco board of directors passed a law in May 2011 that Chiu drafted, with help from the Department of the Environment, to create a three-year pilot program to ban Yellow Pages distributors from quitting. unsolicited telephone directories at residents’ doors.

Instead, to receive one of the books, residents would have had to be home and accept the delivery or give pre-approval by phone, mail, or a note left on the front door. Distributors could also have made the books available in community centers and malls. The idea was to prevent unwanted books from ending up in the recycling bin or landfill.

The program was scheduled to begin in May, but a trade group representing Yellow Pages publishers sued San Francisco in U.S. District Court to overturn the law, again claiming First Amendment protection. The pilot program has since been suspended.

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Seattle’s ordinance, passed two years ago, was weaker than San Francisco’s. He intended to create a takedown registry for Seattle residents who did not want to receive the yellow pages, and allegedly paid for the registry by charging distributors an annual license fee of $ 100 plus a disposal fee.

The Seattle city councilor who sponsored the legislation advertised his office as a drop-off point for junk voters’ phone books – until the resulting heap became too much to handle.

Neg Norton, president of the Local Search Association, formerly known as the Yellow Pages Association, said he was “very excited” by Monday’s decision and called it a victory for small businesses, consumers and the media .

“Our argument of fully protected speech has stood,” he said.

Fewer deliveries

Norton noted that the industry is “doing a lot of good things” by creating its own online unsubscribe directory at www.yellowpagesoptout.com. Nationally, 3.5 million fewer directories have been delivered in the past 18 months due to the registry, Norton said.

“We’re trying to put phone books in the hands of the people who want them, not the people who don’t,” Norton said. “This decision will not change any of that.”


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Marvin M. Moreno

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