Board of Supervisors President David Chiu

Yellow Pages victory in Seattle might threaten San Francisco’s ban

A ban on distributing Yellow Pages throughout Seattle was struck down Monday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in The City, under First Amendment protections. The ruling could affect San Francisco’s own ordinance.

A similar ban was approved here in 2011, but the legislation has not been enforced pending the outcome of the Seattle ban, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

“We are reviewing the ruling and conferring with our clients,” said Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the office.

According to the ruling issued Monday, Seattle’s ban — which taxed the publishing industry in order to help create and promote a program to opt out of receiving the books — infringes on the publishing industry’s First Amendment protection rights.

“Although portions of the directories are obviously commercial in nature, the books contain more than that, and we conclude that the directories are entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment,” the ruling said. “As a result, when we evaluate the Ordinance under strict scrutiny, it does not survive.”

Neg Norton, president of Local Search Associates, said the decision is great news.

“We’re being singled out by government for unfair treatment versus all other media competing in the market,” he said. “We very much support consumer choice, giving consumers an opt-out option, but the patchwork of different regulations in different markets would be problematic.”

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who authored the San Francisco ban, had a different take, calling the ruling a “misreading of First Amendment rights.”

The ruling “protects corporate polluters that litter our San Francisco doorsteps with 1.6 million unwanted Yellow Pages books every year,” Chiu said. “This distinction is akin to the Citizens United ruling that treats free speech rights and corporate super PACs to be the same as real people.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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