From The New York Times
In what is believed to be the first lawsuit of its kind, a public library is being sued for having failed to restrict young patrons' access to the Internet. The lawsuit was filed following an incident in which a 12-year-old boy is said to have downloaded sexually graphic images from computers at a Livermore, Calif., library, and then printed them at a relative's home. \n The suit, filed May 28 in California State Superior Court in Alameda County, asks among other things that Livermore officials be barred from spending public money on the city's public library computer system so long as minors can use it to find sexual material considered "harmful to minors" under California law. \n "The library is violating its basic duty to the community: to provide a safe place to acquire knowledge," said Michael D. Millen, a lawyer who brought the case on behalf of a mother identified only as "Kathleen P." in court papers. \n The suit does not directly ask that the library be required to use filters -- software products that block access to Internet content deemed inappropriate. But in a letter to the city, Millen suggested that one solution would involve the use of filters. \n A lawyer for the city said the library intends to aggressively defend its current practice of providing open Internet access to all patrons, because library board officials, in keeping with the policy of the American Library Association, believe there is no mechanism for cordoning off arguably offensive material without also trampling on basic free speech rights. \n "There is no effective way of screening the Internet without interfering with First Amendment rights," said Daniel G. Sodergren, the assistant city attorney for Livermore. "Filters take out material protected by the First Amendment." \n Nonetheless, the suit suggests that American public libraries are now between a legal rock and a hard place, as some patrons demand filters while others ask the courts to ban them. Late last year, in a federal case that could be seen as the mirror opposite of the Livermore suit, the Loudoun County, Va., public library system was sued by some patrons for providing only filtered access to the Internet. That case is still pending, but the anti-filtering forces have won an important preliminary court victory. \n Millen says that his client's son, identified as "Brandon P.", now 13, visited the Civic Center main library branch of Livermore over a period of about 10 days last June and used computers there to visit Internet sites containing sexually graphic images. The boy downloaded the images onto a disk, used a relative's computer to reproduce them on paper and showed them to friends, according to Millen. \n He said the boy obtained "several dozen" images, and that they ranged from mildly pornographic depictions of semi-clothed women, to what he considers obscenity: images of fully-nude women engaged in sexual encounters. \n Millen believes that most of these images run afoul of California law, either because they are obscene, a legal term referring to graphic sexual material that has no free speech protection, even for adult viewing, or because they are "harmful to minors," material that is protected for adults, but not for those under 18 years of age. \n But determining what is "obscene" or "harmful to minors" is a matter for juries and judges to decide, not individuals like Millen, asserted Ann Brick, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which is watching the Livermore case closely.