Detroit Free Press Select

If you’re lucky, you can often get coupon inserts delivered to your doorstep without even having to subscribe to the local newspaper. But many recipients don’t see it that way. They consider the coupons and advertising supplements that show up in their driveways and front yards to be litter, and a nuisance.

But one community’s effort to put a stop to the unwanted deliveries has resulted in a federal lawsuit from the local newspaper, which says the piles of unwanted inserts aren’t litter – they’re an exercise in free speech.

The dispute is between the Detroit Free Press and the suburban community of Orion Township, Michigan. Newspaper subscribers get circulars, ads and coupon inserts delivered each week in their Sunday paper. And thousands of nonsubscribers get the “Detroit Free Press Select”, a bagged bunch of the same circulars, ads and coupon inserts – whether they want them or not.

And a quick look at the Free Press’ Facebook page shows that many recipients don’t, in fact, want the “Free Press Select”. “Our entire community is SPAMMED by this junk,” one commenter complained. “This paper litters our streets and clogs our storm drains,” another wrote. “I am also tired of picking this up and throwing it away. I don’t care if it’s loaded with coupons or not,” said a third commenter. “1-2 times per week it lands on my driveway. How that doesn’t constitute littering is beyond me,” added a fourth.

In an effort to help these fed-up citizens, the township attorney wrote to the Free Press back in February. “The township has received complaints from private property owners of an ongoing dumping, depositing, placing, throwing or leaving of unrequested and undesired newspapers and/or flyers distributed by your company,” the letter read. The papers represent a violation of the township’s litter ordinance, the letter went on, and demanded that the deliveries stop by the end of that month.

But the coupons and ads kept on coming. So in April, the township cited the newspaper for two separate violations, and fined it $800 for each.

And instead of paying up, the newspaper sued the township.

Calling the fines “outrageous” and “clearly unconstitutional,” the Free Press’ lawsuit argues that “state and federal precedents (make) clear that newspapers cannot be termed ‘litter’,” and that “First Amendment protection extends equally to both requested and unrequested speech.”

Furthermore, the Free Press says it gives residents the ability to call and opt out of receiving the deliveries if they don’t want them.

But many residents complain that they have tried to opt out, and the ads won’t stop. That was the basis of a similar complaint filed by several Chicago-area residents back in 2013 against the Chicago Tribune. “Had the Tribune’s opt-out system been more effective, there would have been no need to sue,” the residents’ attorney Michael Jaskula told Coupons in the News at the time.

That dispute ended amicably, with the Tribune agreeing to better manage opt-out requests, and making a donation to a local recycling organization.

That’s because the Tribune didn’t fight back as vehemently as the Free Press is. The Detroit paper is asking the court to prevent Orion Township from issuing any more $800 tickets. And it’s also seeking punitive damages “in excess of $5 million.”

“It’s an absolute joke and harassment,” Orion township Supervisor Chris Barnett told the Free Press, in response to its lawsuit. “It’s bullying and intimidation.”

They may be worthless to those who don’t want them, but those ads and coupons are worth a whole lot to the Free Press. So much, that the paper is willing to make a First Amendment case of it.

After all, they don’t call it the “Free Press” for nothing.

5 Comments

  1. I actually use the coupons, that’s if they actually deliver them to my side of the street.

  2. They don’t put them on the porch in Milford. They throw them on the front lawns and end of driveways. It is littering, not free speech. The Detroit Free Press needs to stop this NOW!

  3. Let’s rent a dump truck. Fill it with the unwanted selects, and dump it on the Freepress’s lawn!!

  4. I have tried to get this stopped but it just keeps coming. We need to file a class action lawsuit against the Free press because this litter is bringing down property values.

  5. Delivery constitutes mail. Put a stamp on it, mail it then it can be included on the “do not mail ” opt out. This is a cheesy way to bypass the post office and the citizens right to opt out. Littering is also a crime. I do not see plastic litter bags on that beautiful news paper lawn in Sterling Heights on Mound Road.

    I have signs on my house. So instead of on the porch they are thrown on the lawn. I know it’s Detroit but we care about our property as much as the news paper execs.

    Free speech is not the right to litter, harbor bugs, and attract critters on my property.

    You know what gets into those plastic bags to eat the paper…MICE AND RATS.

    Please stop.

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