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The phone book overreach

phone books

Seattle phone book recycling/Office of Mike O’Brien

A lot of people (we among them) probably sympathize with the idea: A requirement that people distributing telephone books allow people to opt out of distribution – to not receive them. Considering the number of trees used to produce masses of telephone books a lot of people don’t want and simply throw out … Well, there are masses of them. Were there just one phone book covering a specific area, as was the case years ago, and were there no Internet for phone number lookup … but again, we live in another world now.

So our impulse was to declare the ordinance pushed by Seattle Council member Mike O’Brien, and passed there last week, as a good thing. The opt-out site has gone live, and by the end of the first day “8,800 households logged on and opted out of 59,600 phone books,” notes the Slog.

And it still could roll ahead … but it’s got some problems. Most of those stem from going beyond simply allowing customers to opt out of delivery, and leaving it at that; had O’Brien stopped there, his effort might be in good shape.

As it is, we’d guess his ordinance will run into a judicial buzzsaw. A number of phone book producers (including the largest, Dex, which is about to deliver its next edition at Seattle), have filed suit. The first sentence of their suit suggests the problem areas involved:

“Seattle Ordinance 123427 violates the First Amendment by banning distribution of yellow pages without a license, taxing publishers for every book they distribute, and forcing publishers to print the City’s messages on their books and to participate in the City’s delivery opt-out program.”

It goes on:

Ordinance 123427 bans distribution of yellow pages unless publishers meet four conditions:

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