Porn Industry Opposes Effort to Censor Library Computers
File photo by kristanza_carr/Flickr

Porn Industry Opposes Effort to Censor Library Computers

Reacting to reports of out-in-the-open porn viewing, public sex, drug use and theft at city libraries, a pair of City Council leaders is proposing to tighten the rules at these sanctuaries for children, the elderly and book nerds.

"I know that taxpayers in the city do not intend for their money to be spent so individuals can access lewd content in public libraries," says Councilman David Ryu who, along with Councilwoman Nury Martinez, is proposing a crackdown on adult video viewing on library computers.

But Los Angeles–based XXX trade group the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), is not happy with the effort to filter content on library computers. The nonprofit argues that doing so could violate taxpayers' First Amendment right to see what they want to see and read what they want to read.

"Librarians and patrons should not have to tolerate lewd behavior or drug use in public, but limiting what people access online is anathema to free speech, and antithetical to the free flow of ideas," FSC executive director Eric Paul Leue said via email. "Filtering software sounds like an easy solution, but we know that such software often casts an egregiously wide net, blocking not only sexually explicit content but also sexual health information, LGBTQ sites and sites like ours, which contains no sexual imagery whatsoever but discusses issues relevant to the adult industry."

The proposals by Ryu and Martinez seek to enhance security at 73 city libraries while also censoring digital video and photography by placing "filtering software on all publicly owned library computers, workstations and wireless networks," according to a summary.

The City Council has broached this topic in years past, with the result being physical blocking devices, or "screen filters," for computers, which the councilmembers say have not been effective at preventing children and passersby from seeing adult content. Since then, Ryu says, county government has implemented digital content filters at its own libraries, and courts have supported a limited level of filtering despite free-speech concerns.

"I strongly believe we can protect free speech while also protecting children," Ryu says. "I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU."

Martinez said in a statement that, as things stand, the balance between free speech and protecting children is out of whack: "It is outrageous that our libraries enable people to watch pornography on public computers. It’s just not right. Libraries are supposed to be for learning, not lewdness. No parent should ever have to worry that their child will be exposed to sexually explicit images and videos."

The Free Speech Coalition, however, believes children can be protected without having the city select what content taxpayers can see. "Libraries are welcome to use privacy screens to block inadvertent viewing, but we're concerned about any motion that would arbitrarily limit access to particular sites or content," Leue said.

"The councilmembers' motion wrongly suggests that 'pornography' is easily identifiable and clearly defined, rather than a shifting concept that depends on views of those policing it," he added. "In the past year alone, we've seen magazines like Cosmopolitan attacked as pornography in conservative districts, just as we've seen crackdowns on LGBTQ content and imagery, and mere nudity elsewhere. No one should be comfortable with state-funded employees determining what is or isn't acceptable for adults to read or research, or what ideas are or aren't detrimental to public health."

He says it might be hard to draw the line when it comes to controversial art and literature, and that digital content filters could end up being too draconian.

"Artists like Mapplethorpe, Larry Sultan and Jeff Koons certainly grace public library shelves, though they deal with the same explicit themes in the same manner," Leue said. "Censoring adult content may seem simple in practice, but history of libraries is crowded with literature, from Fanny Hall to the Kinsey Report to Heather Has Two Mommies, that was not long ago deemed obscene or harmful by censors."

Not everyone in adult video is against the city proposal, however.

"I was surprised to hear you actually could watch porn at a public library," Adam Grayson, chief financial officer of porn studio Evil Angel, said via email. "It might not be the most popular opinion in the adult industry, but I think this is totally common sense. I mean, my kids go to the library to get a Curious George book, I don't want them walking past some creeper with EvilAngel.com pulled up on the screen."

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >