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California’s First District Court of Appeal on Tuesday held that a city is not liable for a minor’s access to Internet pornography simply because it offered unrestricted access to computers at a public library. The court pointed to federal law to conclude in Kathleen R. v. City of Livermore, A086349, that the library can’t be penalized for obscene content posted to the Internet by a third party. “There is a crucial distinction between providing minors with harmful matter on the one hand, and maintaining computers where minors may obtain such matter, however easily, on the other,” wrote retired Justice Daniel “Mike” Hanlon. Justices Timothy Reardon and Patricia Sepulveda concurred. The case stemmed from a 12-year-old Livermore boy’s use of his local library’s computer terminal to download hard-core pornography to a disk. He later printed out the images at a relative’s home. The boy’s mother, identified as Kathleen R., sued the city. Two years ago, Alameda County Judge George Hernandez Jr. dismissed the case on grounds that the parent could not state a cause of action under either state or federal law. At oral arguments in January, Michael Millen, an attorney affiliated with the Pacific Justice Institute, argued for Kathleen R. that libraries and other public agencies must do more to protect children from graphic Web sites, including requiring parental consent for minors to use the Internet at the library. But on Tuesday, the court sympathized with libraries, which the justices said are “in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation in deciding whether to restrict access to the Internet from its computers to prevent harm to minors.” The justices noted that in a Virginia case, a library was sued for blocking access to the Internet. Ultimately, Hanlon wrote, a public library “does not ‘affirmatively place’ minors in danger by allowing them unsupervised use of computers which are linked to the Internet.”

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