Yellow Pages publishers today filed a lawsuit (.pdf) against the City of Seattle challenging its newly minted phone book ordinance, which prohibits them from distributing yellow pages to people on a city-enforced opt-out list. The ordinance also places a fee on phone books distributed in the city to recover the cost of recycling.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Seattle, claims that the ordinance is unconstitutional and singles out phone book publishers unfairly. Plaintiffs Dex One Corp., SuperMedia, and the Yellow Pages Association (YPA) argue that the city is violating the First Amendment by asking for a recovery fee and telling the publishers with whom they should communicate.

"Unfortunately, we were left with no other choice," YPA president Neg Norton said. "We made multiple trips out to Seattle to try and work with the City Council. We tried to make the point that it is not in our interest to deliver phone books to those who didn't want them, but the council did not listen to us."

YPA had suggested that the city use its upgraded opt-out service, but the council felt that without any kind of enforcement, there would be nobody to keep an eye on them.

Council Member Miko O'Brien, who sponsored the yellow pages legislation, said he was confident that the city's ordinance was constitutionally sound. "We look forward to defending it," he said.

YPA's lawyer, Bill Champion, said that the City of Seattle was violating free speech rights by asking publishers for a license fee before they could distribute phone books. "It's basically asking you to get a license to communicate," he said. "It's also telling publishers what to put on the cover of the phone book—we are required to promote the City of Seattle's opt-out site. That's like using half of The Stranger's front cover to promote city services."

However, both sides said they were happy to sit down and talk. "But in the end, we'll have to keep in mind what serves the citizens best," O'Brien said.