Taking freedom of the press too far?

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held yesterday that publishers of telephone directories have a constitutional right to dump them on your doorstep. People who keep getting phone books, often multiple copies, find these directories annoying. Small businesspeople think they are a shakedown.

The Supreme Court held a while back that one publisher did not violate copyright by just copying another’s listings into its own book. Since then, competing publishers have put out these books at little cost and demanded money for yellow pages listings. These phone books compete against each other in an odd way: people don’t care which one they use and generally throw away the old one when any new one arrives. All the different publishers do is cheapen each other’s product.

Some cities like Seattle have passed laws limiting the phone books’ right to distribute and creating “do not dump” lists. Many of us hoped these laws would put a few of these publishers out of business. But now the court says that the First Amendment protects their right to litter our yards with their books.

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