Mainstream Loudoun v. Loudoun County Library
(Blocking Software Case)

This page was last updated on April 22, 1999.

Mainstream Loudoun, et. al. v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Public Libraries, et. al. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria, Virginia. Case Number CV 97-2049.

Nature of the Case: Residents of Loudoun County, Virginia, and website operators and authors whose web pages may have been blocked, asked the federal court to prevent the county public library from using Internet blocking software on public access computers in the library. All plaintiffs alleged that use of the software violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The plaintiffs won, and the library decided not to appeal.

Plaintiffs: Mainstream Loudoun (P.O. Box 4013, Leesburg, VA, 20177), and its individual members, who are residents of Loudoun County, Virginia. Attorneys: Elliot Mincberg and Lawrence Ottinger, People for the American Way (PFAW), 202-467-4999; and Robert Corn-Revere, Hogan & Hartson, Washington, DC, 202-637-5600. Intervening Plaintiffs are seven website operators or authors whose web pages were once blocked by X-STOP software on the Loudoun Library computers. Attorneys: Ann Beeson, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation (ACLU), 125 Broad Street, New York, NY, 10004, 212-549-2601.

Defendants: Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Public Libraries, its members, and the director of the library. Attorneys: Kenneth Bass and Damon Wright, Venable Baetjer & Howard, 2010 Corporate Ridge, Suite 400, McLean, Virginia, 22102, 703-760-1600, Log On Data Corp, maker of X-STOP, is not a party to the case.

Facts: Loudoun County is located in far northern Virginia. It includes both farms, and posh exurbs of Washington DC. It is the site of, or very close to, many major computer and Internet companies, including American Online, BTG, Caci, CyberCash, FastComm, Netrix, PSINet, and UUNet. The County runs a public library system with six branches.  On October 20, 1997, the Board of Directors of the library adopted a Policy regarding blocking access to porn sites on the Internet from its computers.  It then had installed on its ten Internet connected computers the Library Edition of the X-STOP blocking software, produced by Log On Data Corp. On December 22, the Loudoun County resident plaintiffs filed suit.  The ACLU soon moved to intervene on behalf of seven website operators or authors whose web pages are alleged to have been blocked by X-STOP software. The initial papers filed with the Court by the parties' attorneys reflect different factual allegations regarding the nature of the software, and what sites are being blocked.

Issues: This is a case of first impression, that is, one presenting an issue that the courts have not previously decided. The main issues are whether public libraries violate the First Amendment freedom of speech rights of library users or web publishers, by installing blocking software on computer terminals in the libraries. The Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech...". Also at issue is whether the "Good Samaritan Clause" of Telecom Act of 1996, 47 USC 230(c)(2)(A) and (3), offers the Library a valid defense to the Plaintiffs' claims. The case may have far reaching effects on the ability of libraries, schools, state universities, and government offices to install blocking or filtering software on their computers.

Status: The Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Summary Judgment on February 2, 1998. Plaintiffs also filed cross motions for summary judgment. Judge Brinkema, the trial court judge, denied most of the Defendants' motions in her April 7 Opinion. She denied the 47 USC 230 immunity claim, ruled that the contitutional standard of "strict scrutiny" would be applied to the Library's actions in this case, and ruled that there were facts in dispute that prevented her from ruling the summary judgment motion. The parties then proceeded to conduct extensive pretrial discovery. The Judge decided the remaining issues in the November 23, 1998 Memorandum Opinion. She granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, and barred the library from enforcing its blocking software policy. On April 1, 1999, the library board decided not to appeal. (The delay was a result of the library board wanting to know what attorneys fees Judge Brinkema would award.)

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