EBSCO, a nationwide corporation to provides databases to public schools, is facing a lawsuit that accuses it of imbedding pornography in those databases for children to use for homework and research. The Thomas More Society, a nonprofit advocacy law firm, is suing EBSCO and also the Colorado Library Consortium. The latter is a taxpayer-supported nonprofit corporation that TMS says “brokers EBSCO’s pornographic databases to schools and libraries throughout Colorado.”
The law suit is filed under the Colorado Deceptive Trade Practices Act, under which it is illegal to make false claims to sell a product. “These databases definitely are not age-appropriate, nor can parents consider them reliable, as EBSCO claims,” said TMS spokesman Matt Heffron. TMS and attorney Heffron are representing Pornography is Not Education, a Colorado civic group that includes parents who are “understandably outraged” at what they have discovered, said Heffron.
Two years ago, parents in Aurora, Colorado, discovered that EBSCO databases marketed to school children contained easily accessible, hardcore pornography. The EBSCO database system bypasses school internet filters and private, parent-supplied internet filters. Within the last year, the Aurora parents have been joined by parents and citizens in other Colorado counties. Last month, the Cherry Creek school district -- one of the largest in the state -- acknowledged it had discontinued purchasing or using any EBSCO products. The parents’ victory came after two years of contention and came just before to the filing of a law suit against the school district by TMS.
In a statement, TMS attorney Matt Heffron said, “This case is about two things: protecting children and calling out corporate deceit.” He added, “EBSCO gets schools to purchase databases by falsely promising the databases are age-appropriate and specifically tailored for elementary, middle and high school children.” Papers filed by TMS declared that the Colorado Library Consortium has “parroted and supported EBSCO in brokering these databases to schools.”
“This case also is about corporations obeying the law,” said Heffron. “It is against the law to ply children with pornography. If the local convenience store or movie theatre can’t do it, why should EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium be allowed to get away with it?”
The TMS lawsuit states that most parents are unaware that the “databases are anything but safe or kid-friendly. They are riddled with easily accessible graphic pornography. And both EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium are well aware of it.”
According to Heffron, “This is not the internet, as some school officials have falsely stated.” TMS contends that EBSCO controls and limits the content of its databases marketed to schools. The curated databases are simply initially accessed through the internet. “That control of the databases is why parents can expect the databases to be safe for their children at school,” he said. “They should not be infested with adult sexual fantasies.”
Expressing satisfaction that the Cherry Creek school district has discontinued its association with EBSCO, Dr. Robin Paterson, one of the parents most involved in the effort, said that parents had sought to get the company to cooperate and avoid a law suit. “We tried to work with them for the last two years. So did the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. But all EBSCO was willing to do is put on a band-aid, not fix the problem.” The National Center on Sexual Exploitation named EBSCO to its “Dirty Dozen List” of the worst twelve corporations in America that perpetuate sexual exploitation.
According to TMS, inexpensive technology exists to allow EBSCO to exclude sexually explicit materials from the databases for school children. The law suit asserts that EBSCO has decided not to use such technology. A sampling of material parents found in the school databases provided by EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium included:
a “summer reading list” for children contained many erotic and BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadomasochism) stories, which could be located through as innocent a search as “romance;”
an EBSCO database marketed to school children contained a full-text e-book entitled “Pornography in America: A Reference Handbook,” which contained live url links to a company hosting video pornography and promoting the pornography industry;
benign searches for terms such as “robotics,” “girl’s stories,” “boy stories,” “grade 7 biology,” and “respiration” retrieved hyperlinks to “Lust”, “Bondage,” “Sex Toys,” and “Sexual Positions;”
more than 100 different instances of advertising for one particular large-scale sex toy store;
an allegedly teen website that advises children to use saran wrap to prevent sexually transmitted disease.
The second count of the law suit alleges a civil conspiracy between EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium. It lists six federal and state statutes outlawing sexually explicit materials from being supplied to children. These statutes apply two well-established legal standards, “obscene-as-to-minors” and “harmful-as-to- minors,” which have withstood constitutional challenges. The law suit alleges EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium agreed, at least tacitly, to violate laws such as these. “As one would expect, courts apply a much stricter standard when deciding whether to shield children from pornography than they apply when deciding cases involving adults” said Heffron.
The state of Utah is now investigating the use of EBSCO products by public schools there, after Colorado parents informed their counterparts in the neighbor state. “EBSCO claims to be in 55,000 schools across the country,” said Heffron. “We’re just getting started.” For example, TMS filed a law suit in April against a Chicago public school, (Wagenmaker et al (parents) v. Kenner et al. (Whitney Young administrators) that forced the cancellation of sexual education instruction for 7th through 12th graders by a sex columnist, whose extensive online articles advocated casual hook-up sex, pornography use, and other risky sexual behaviors.